Kim Clijsters blamed her surprising exit from the French Open to the world No 114 yesterday on not having enough belief in herself.
The two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, seeded second at this year’s tournament, lost to Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the biggest shock of the event to date.
“I started doubting a little bit,” said the Belgian, who played only her second match in two months after shoulder and ankle injuries.
“When you start doubting yourself on any surface, but for me definitely on clay, it’s the wrong attitude to have.”
Clijsters, who had won her last 15 matches in grand slams after taking the titles at last year’s US Open and this year’s Australian Open, failed to convert two match points that she had in the second set. Playing with her ankle taped, the Belgian made 65 unforced errors in the match and lost 11 of the final 12 games.
Rus finished with only 22 unforced errors and had only eight winners in the match.
Clijsters had no clay-court tournament preparation coming into the French Open. She pulled out of the Indian Wells tournament in March because of shoulder and wrist injuries. She injured her right ankle while dancing at her cousin’s wedding in April.
“My ankle feels fine, so that has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Clijsters said. “If I felt like I wasn’t ready as much as I would have liked to be, I wouldn’t have come here.
"If I wasn't feeling like I was able to play tough matches, then I wouldn't have made that decision to come here."
Rus, 20, said that surviving the match points in the second set when she had been a set and 5-2 down had given her the confidence to launch a comeback.
"When I was 5-2 down in the second set," Rus said, "I was thinking, 'Just go for it and play more aggressive.' And, yeah, that really helped. At 6-5 I had a really good serve game, and then I won the set. Then I was thinking, 'Yeah, I can win this match.'
"It was my biggest win. She is my hero. I played fantastic tennis."
The reward for her victory is a match with Maria Kirilenko, the Russian No 25 seed.
Li Na, the Chinese No 6 seed, avoided the same fate as Clijsters as she won against the Silvia Soler-Espinosa, but said it had not been easy because she knew nothing about her Spanish opponent.
“It was an opponent who I had never seen before. Also, I asked many players for information, but got back zero,” said the Australian Open finalist after her 6-4, 7-5 win over a woman ranked 158 in the world.
"Nobody knew what this player looked like. So at the beginning of the match, I was a little bit surprised."
She will face Romania's Sorana Cirstea, a quarter-finalist in 2009, for a place in the last 16.
Maria Sharapova, the No 7 seed, survived a scare before progressing to the third round.
She dropped the first set to Caroline Garcia but bounced back to triumph 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
In the men's competition, Rafael Nadal's erratic form continued as the world No 1 reached the third round.
He was forced to work hard to overcome his Spanish compatriot Pablo Andujar 7-5, 6-3, 7-6.
Coming two days after he was taken to five sets by the American, John Isner, the defending champion had to come from a break down to force a tie-break in the third set and looked well below his best.
Robin Soderling, the runner-up at the French Open for the last two years, was reluctant to talk up his chances of a third successive final appearance after an impressive 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Albert Ramos.
“I think it’s really important to take it one step at a time, one match at a time, and not think too far ahead,” the Swedish No 5 seed said. “I will just try to play my best.”
Andy Murray, the No 4 seed, put in an inconsistent showing on his way to reaching the last 32, defeating Simone Bolelli 7-6, 6-4, 7-5.
The Briton was twice broken in the first set before winning it in a tie-break, and had to come from a break down in the third set to go through.
Mardy Fish, meanwhile, kept the Americanflag flying in the men’s draw with a 7-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Robin Haase of the Netherlands. He is the sole American survivor into the third round of the men’s competition after compatriot Sam Querrey lost to Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia.
Spain’s Fernando Verdasco advanced after a four-set victory over the 30-year-old Belgian, Xavier Malisse.