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