PARIS — The word "doubt" made a fine title for a great play and a good movie, but it's a villain at a Grand Slam tennis tournament in a vicious world teeming with people who can take your doubt and maul it -- and you -- with their ground strokes.
It turned up at the psychic door of Alexa Glatch, the rising 19-year-old from Newport Beach, and it foiled her Thursday. It couldn't come within a county line of Serena Williams, as seldom it can. And it tried to trip up both Venus Williams and Roger Federer, but those wizened souls of ages 28 and 27, respectively, showed they knew how to defuse it.
Not so for Glatch. When it arrived, she led, 5-2, in the second set in her second-round match against Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino, the world's 87th-ranked player (to Glatch's No. 116). When it departed to go bother somebody else, she had lost, 7-6 (0), 7-5.
"I wasn't exactly sure what to do, I think, at times," Glatch said with admirable candor. "You know, it was just that little bit of doubt that cost me."
As the retiring 37-year-old veteran Fabrice Santoro lectured Wednesday, the danger of doubt has never been more costly than in these days, when hordes of players scrap like cats in a junkyard for every single point, unlike their forebears who would pace themselves. Even Serena Williams reported some nervousness for her first match Tuesday, helping explain her three-set struggle with Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic.
On Wednesday, Williams said, "I was really upset, and I stayed home all day," but by Thursday, she was back to normal. "I'm not nearly as upset as I was the other day," she said, by virtue of her 57-minute, doubtless destruction of the 35-year-old veteran Virginia Ruano Pascal of Spain by 6-2, 6-0.
That came on the main Court Philippe Chatrier just after Federer and just after the we-love-Federer French crowd endured their steep doubts of his 7-6 (8), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over No. 45-ranked Jose Acasuso.
As Federer seeks the only Grand Slam title he lacks, and he tries for a fourth straight final, he trailed 6-3 and 7-6 in a first-set tiebreaker and 5-1 in a third-set morass. He weathered all that on wherewithal.
"Definitely it was a sign of mental strength and, you know, the physical abilities I have," he said.
"Well, I'm angry," Acasuso said, "because even though it was Federer, it was a near-miss," one unconverted because doubt had crept in during the third set.
Maybe it just came over, in fact, from Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second show court, where Venus Williams had faced match point in her two-day bash-fest with the Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova. Serving at 4-5 and 30-40 in the third set, Williams had taken a semi-short return and smoked it into the corner for a winner.
She had confronted doubt and won by 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-5, in the most curious way: by ignoring it.
"I don't even remember what I thought about on the serve and running up to that ball," she said. "I just hit it aggressively. I'm tall, so when I run up to balls my arms get in the way.
"So I have to be careful about not getting too close. When you're tall, you've got a different set of issues than if you're short or medium."
Those issues subside for a pivotal instant, though, if you know what to do with doubt.