Paris - Serena Williams crashed to the worst Grand Slam defeat of her career on Tuesday when she slumped to a dramatic and thrilling 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 French Open loss to France's world No 111 Virginie Razzano.
It was the 30-year-old American's first ever exit at the opening round stage of her 47-event Grand Slam career and her earliest loss at a major since she was knocked out of the Australian Open second round by sister Venus in 1998.
On a night of unbearable tension on Philippe Chatrier Court, Williams saved seven match points in the ninth game of the nerve-jangling decider.
"I fought until the end. You (the crowd) gave me your energy. I'm gonna have to rest. Thank you all for your support," said a breathless Razzano after a three-hour struggle.
Williams had had the late evening match in her hands when she led by a set and 5/1 in the second set tie-break as she looked set for a routine win.
But Razzano, the darling of the Paris crowd after playing the 2011 French Open just days after the death of her fiancé from a brain tumour, then reeled off the next six points of the breaker to level the tie.
Amidst rising tension and emotion, Williams, a 13-time Grand Slam title winner, appeared to cry as she sat in her courtside chair ahead of the final set.
She then fell to pieces on the court, slipping two breaks down to trail 4-0.
Williams then had to regather herself when umpire Eva Asderaki, with whom she had angrily clashed during her 2011 US Open final defeat against Samantha Stosur in New York last year, ordered the first point of the fifth game to be replayed.
Razzano served an ace to lead 5-0, but the drama did not end there.
Williams clawed her way back to 3-5 and had a break point when Asderaki punished Razzano for hindrance for a third time for letting out a loud yelp.
She saved it and went to match point which she squandered on an eighth double fault.
A second break point, as the French girl cramped, was saved before another match point quickly followed, this time wasted through a nerve-wracked wild forehand.
Razzano saved another break point and another, before a third match point was lost, sailing away on a wild, long forehand and then a fourth, this time as a backhand flew way beyond the baseline.
Williams saved a fifth match point with a sweeping, brutal forehand and then a sixth when Razzano pushed a backhand wide.
A fifth break point went begging for the American before a seventh match point arrived for the French girl, saved on this occasion by a pinpoint Williams drive which landed just on the line.
But on the eighth match point, Williams went long and Razzano celebrated an epic win after three hours and three minutes of action.
Razzano will next face Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus for a place in the last 32.
Results from the third day of the 2012 French Open at Roland Garros on Tuesday (x denotes seeded player):
Florian Mayer (32), Germany, def. Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Spain, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
David Ferrer (6), Spain, def. Lukas Lacko, Slovakia, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.
Dmitry Tursunov, Russia, def. Go Soeda, Japan, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Sergiy Stakhovsky, Ukraine, def. Alexandr Dolgopolov (16), Ukraine, 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-3.
Janko Tipsarevic (8), Serbia, def. Sam Querrey, United States, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.
Jeremy Chardy, France, def. Yen-hsun Lu, Taiwan, 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (3/7), 3-6, 11-9.
Richard Gasquet (17), France, def. Jurgen Zopp, Estonia, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).
Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria, def. Donald Young, United States, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1, 6-1.
Eduardo Schwank, Argentina, def. Ivo Karlovic, Croatia, 6-4, 6-0, 6-3.
Tommy Haas, Germany, leads Filippo Volandri, Italy, 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Jarkko Nieminen, Finland, def. Igor Andreev, Russia, 3-6, 6-2, 2-1, retired.
Rafael Nadal (2), Spain, def. Simone Bolelli, Italy, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
Julien Benneteau (29), France, def. Mischa Zverev, Germany, 6-2, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-4.
Benoit Paire, France, def. Albert Ramos, Spain, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3.
Denis Istomin, Uzbekistan, def. Igor Kunitsyn, Russia, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
Robin Haase, Netherlands, def. Ivan Dodig, Croatia, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
Nicolas Almagro (12), Spain, def. Paolo Lorenzi, Italy, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Juan Monaco (13), Argentina, def. Guillaume Rufin, France, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/3).
Lukas Rosol, Czech Republic, def. Carlos Berlocq, Argentina, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 6-2.
Andy Murray (4), Britain, def. Tatsuma Ito, Japan, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0.
Marcos Baghdatis, Cyprus, def. Juan Ignacio Chela, Argentina, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.
Mikhail Youzhny (27), Russia, def. James Blake, United States, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
Francesca Schiavone (14), Italy, def. Kimiko Date-Krumm, Japan, 6-3, 6-1.
Petra Kvitova (4), Czech Republic, def. Ashleigh Barty, Australia, 6-1, 6-2.
Heather Watson, Britain, def. Elena Vesnina, Russia, 6-2, 6-4.
Klara Zakopalova, Czech Republic, def. Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine, 6-2, 6-1.
Julia Goerges (25), Germany, def. Lucie Hradecka, Czech Republic, 7-6 (7/1), 6-4.
Ayumi Morita, Japan, def. Polona Hercog, Slovenia, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Maria Sharapova (2), Russia, def. Alexandra Cadantu, Romania, 6-0, 6-0.
Urszula Radwanska, Poland, def. Pauline Parmentier, France, 6-4, 6-3.
Lourdes Dominguez Lino, Spain, def. Marina Erakovic, New Zealand, 7-5, 7-5.
Arantxa Rus, Netherlands, def. Jamie Hampton, United States, 6-4, 4-3, retired.
Tsvetana Pironkova, Bulgaria, def. Yanina Wickmayer, Belgium, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (22), Russia, def. Greta Arn, Hungary, 6-4, 6-4.
Melinda Czink, Hungary, def. Anne Keothavong, Britain, 6-1, 6-2.
Kaia Kanepi (23), Estonia, def. Alexandra Panova, Russia, 6-3, 6-3.
Maria Kirilenko (16), Russia, def. Victoria Larriere, France, 6-1, 6-2.
Jarmila Gajdosova, Australia, def. Magdalena Rybarikova, Slovakia, 6-3, 4-1, retired.
Irina-Camelia Begu, Romania, def. Aravane Rezai, France, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2.
Caroline Wozniacki (9), Denmark, def. Eleni Daniilidou, Greece, 6-0, 6-1.
Virginie Razzano, France, def. Serena Williams (5), United States, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.