Paris - Serena Williams will have a third
go at winning a 22nd Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, which would
draw her level with Steffi Graf as the most successful female player in the
But to do so, the 34-year-old American will
have to achieve something she has so far failed to manage - defend her crown in
Just three of Williams 21 Grand Slam titles
have come in France - the first in 2002 and then a long gap until 2013 and
The year after her inaugural French Open
title, she lost in three tough sets to eventual winner Justine Henin - hardly a
major upset at that time.
But in 2014 she lost a second round tie to
young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, a defeat that recalled her shock first round
exit at the hands of Virginie Razzano two years previously.
That defeat to the lowly-ranked French
player resulted in Williams re-dedicating herself to the game under the
guidance of French coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
The result has been spectacular with her
winning two Wimbledon titles, three consecutive US Opens between 2012 and 2014,
one further championship in Paris and the Australian Open in 2015.
She feels that with age she is now better
positioned to stay the course as defending champion in the second of the year's
four Grand Slam tournaments.
"I have tried to defend there (in
Paris) once, twice, three times before. Didn't quite work so well," she
said after winning the Italian Open on Sunday - her first title triumph in nine
"But this year is different. I'm going
to definitely go in there and I feel more calm and I don't feel stress to,
like, have to win. You know, I feel like I just am happy to be out here."
The victory in Italy came at an opportune moment
for Williams as she had gone title-less since Cincinnati in the build-up to
last year's US Open.
There then followed losses in the finals of
the US and Australian Opens and a defeat to main rival Victoria Azarenka at
A fourth round loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova
at Miami saw Williams pull down the shutters for a while only for her to roar
back to form in Rome.
Asked how relieved she felt to finally get
another win - the 70th of her career - under her belt Williams replied:
"It feels great. But I mean, I have played, let's see, US Open,
Australian, Miami, Indian Wells. So it's only four tournaments. So it's not
like I was playing every week."
With two-time winner Maria Sharapova out of
the picture under a doping cloud, the opposition to Williams is expected to
come from Europeans in the shape of Germany's Angelique Kerber, who upset
Williams in Melbourne, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech
Republic, 2014 finalist Simona Halep of Romania, Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska,
as well as Azarenka.
But there could be an emerging threat from
her fellow American Madison Keys, who ran Williams close in the Rome final, and
who seems to have developed a taste for clay-court action at just 21.
"I think having a couple of top 10
wins this week was really big for me and playing people who have done very well
in Roland Garros and just on clay in general," she said last Sunday.
"But I think the biggest thing is just
how calm I have stayed on court and really, even in tough situations, stayed
calm and collected and just really focused on my game, and I feel like I'm just
playing much smarter tennis."