The new French Open favorite is ...


PARIS -- It was a tough day for Oracene Williams.

There were moments during her daughter Venus' second-round French Open match on Court Philippe Chatrier when it appeared she was actually asleep. As it turned out, Venus herself was gently put to rest Wednesday by a 19-year-old Slovakian named Anna Schmiedlova 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

That was not completely unexpected. But when Oracene made the brief journey to Court Suzanne Lenglen, the same fate befell No. 1-seeded Serena, who tossed in a deeply shocking loss to Garbine Muguruza of Spain, 6-2, 6-2.

It was all over in 64 minutes -- the kind of early-round match that over the years the Williams sisters have made their own. As the match wound down, Serena was left looking distraught and angry and, above all, confused.

The Bryan Brothers, like Serena, are ranked No. 1 and are almost always playing vastly inferior opponents in the early rounds. Bob and Mike say they are lucky to have each other to "get on" each other" when they are struggling.

"It's always a shock to see Serena bow out this early in the tournament," Bob said after their first-round win. "It's probably easier to beat her in the early rounds when her concentration isn't fully there. Once she wins a few matches, she really gets going. Early is usually the best chance for the lower-ranked players."

There was a time -- from 2000 to 2003 -- when the Williams sisters won just about everything. But in recent years, their one-two punch gradually has softened. In 2008, they both lost on the same day in the third round here at Roland Garros. Three years ago, they were beaten on the same day in the fourth round at Wimbledon. And now, it has happened again.

On this day anyway, Venus, less than a month from her 34th birthday, and Serena, 32, very much looked their age.

No. 2 seed Li Na's departure Tuesday at the hands of Kristina Mladenovic was a stunner, but on the Richter scale it doesn't come close to Serena's defeat. Now that the two top seeds are gone -- imagine the chaos that would ensue if Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were both gone by the second round -- the women's French is suddenly wide Open.

It's the first time in the Open era that the No. 1 and 2 women's seeds were eliminated before the third round of any Grand Slam.

Who will benefit the most from this massive vacuum?

Maria Sharapova: No one was happier about this turn of events than Sharapova. She has a 2-16 record against Serena, and because her ranking has fallen to No. 7, she was slated to meet her in the quarterfinals. Now the most dangerous player left in her quarter is No. 9 Dominika Cibulkova, whom she would see in the fourth round. Coming in, the consensus was that Sharapova would need help to get past Serena. Well, she should send Muguruza one of the many Porsches she has collected in Stuttgart. Sharapova, who won on the clay in Stuttgart and Madrid, is now the prohibitive favorite to win her second French Open title in three years.

Jelena Jankovic: With Li out of the picture, the bottom quarter of the draw could go to any one of a half-dozen players. Jankovic is the highest seed left, at No. 6, but Sara Errani (No. 10) and Andrea Petkovic (No. 28) could get to a semifinal against the winner of the loaded third quarter.

Simona Halep: The diminutive Romanian has come a long way in the past year. Now it's not a complete stretch to think she could reach the final here. Halep is the top seed (No. 4) in that third quarter and is projected to meet No. 15 Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. The winner of that match would likely face ...

Ana Ivanovic: The No. 11 seed was the one who knocked Serena out of this year's Australian Open, in the fourth round. She'll have to get through No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova in the fourth round and Halep in the quarters, but would likely be favored to reach the final against any of the bottom-quarter survivors.

No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska: Her best effort here came a year ago when she reached the quarterfinals. This time, she could go even further after escaping the soft second quarter. Sharapova could be the semifinal opponent. With Serena out of the way, the No. 3 seed has one fewer behemoth to slay to get to her first French final.