Razzano plays at French Open after fiance's death
Barely a week after the death of her fiance, French professional tennis player Virginie Razzano honored his memory and followed his wish, setting aside her grief just long enough to compete at the French Open.
Razzano's eyes welled and mouth quivered when she slowly stepped into the sun-soaked main stadium at Roland Garros on Tuesday morning to play in the first round against 24th-seeded Jarmila Gajdosova of Australia.
Tough as it was merely to set foot on that court, Razzano knew it was absolutely necessary: Stephane Vidal, her fiance and also her longtime coach, encouraged her to go ahead and enter the tournament. He died May 16 at age 32, nine years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
So there Razzano was Tuesday, back at her job, a black ribbon pinned to the front of her shirt - a symbol of mourning other French women in the tournament also are wearing. Around Razzano's neck rested a gold chain that she unclasped, then pressed to her lips, before carefully placing on her changeover chair.
It's a necklace Razzano gave Vidal as a Valentine's Day gift a few years ago.
''He wore it all the time, because it's as if I was around his neck. ... He was wearing this necklace until his last breath,'' the 28-year-old Razzano said, pausing to wipe tears from her cheeks. ''I thought, 'I am the one who needs to wear it now, because I was with him, and now he is with me.' So I got it back, and I will always wear it. Of course, I can't play with it, because it's a very heavy chain. But it's comforting. It's for me to feel that he's with me.''
Needless to say, playing at all was challenging enough.
Winning? Well, that was too much to ask. When Razzano sent a forehand long to close Gajdosova's 6-3, 6-1 victory, the women jogged to the net. They exchanged kisses on the cheeks, and Gajdosova rubbed Razzano's arm.
''I was (playing) a person that was very hurt. It's not nice. I won, and I'm really happy, but it wasn't as ecstatic as I wish it was,'' Gajdosova said.
''I just told her that I'm sorry for her loss,'' Gajdosova continued, ''and what she did was pretty much incredible. She stood on the court and held her head up high and tried her best.''
In an interview with French public television when she left the court, Razzano said: ''I felt a lot of emotion, a lot of pain, on court today. The pain is permanent within me. ... But it felt good to be surrounded by so many people and to be here. I tried to pay tribute to Stephane today. It was almost a 'mission impossible,' but I did my best.''
About an hour later, Razzano emerged from the locker room and joined the group of family and friends waiting in the players' lounge. They showered her with hugs and whispers that brought forth bits of laughter from Razzano, whose official WTA tour biography - below information about her career-high ranking (19th) and current spot (96th) - notes that she describes herself as ''the girl with a smile.''
''It's difficult for me to be here today. It's difficult. It's painful. It's hard. If I did it, it's for Stephane,'' Razzano said at her postmatch news conference. ''But ... he wanted me to play. He wanted me to continue to go on with my life, even during these very painful circumstances.''
As Razzano spoke, she placed her left hand on the gold chain around her neck.
Howard Fendrich can be reached at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich