Serena Williams’ French Open draw will test the top seed from the get-go. Williams, the defending champion, will have to draw on all her fight and experience if she is going to win her third French Open trophy.
Serena will face Alize Lim in the first round. The 23 year-old ranked 143 does not look like a potential banana skin on paper; however, what could see Serena slip up is memories of the last time she went into the first round of the French Open as an overwhelming favorite against a French woman. In 2012, Williams led Virginie Razzano by a set and was a mini-break up in the second set breaker. A few errors later though and Williams was tied at a set all; before she knew what hit her, she was trailing 0-5 before going down 3-6 in the third.
Williams though is a pro when it comes to laying ghosts to rest, but even if she conquers her demons and makes it to the second round, she faces one of the tour’s hottest up-and-comers, 20 year old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, who made the last sixteen at this year’s Australian Open.
If Williams can prevail in the veteran versus new-blood contest that match would be, tennis fans might be transported back in time to 2002, the last time Serena and Venus Williams met at the French Open. That year Serena was about to embark on her Serena slam run and Venus was the defending Wimbledon and US Open champion.
This potential contest, the 25th of their head-to-head, would see both women at very different stages of their careers. Serena is at the peak of her powers, a 17 time Grand Slam champion and world no.1 while Venus is, at 34, in her twilight years, still doing herself proud by winning titles at Premier events such as Dubai, but several years past her being a regular feature in Grand slam finals.
That contest will push Serena to the limits emotionally. And if she makes it through, she could face her 2013 Wimbledon conqueror Sabine Lisicki. Revenge, though, is something Serena relishes, ask Maria Sharapova, and Lisicki, a former
Charleston winner and quite a force herself on Clay, could find herself on the receiving end of an emotional and focused Williams, an experience few players survive.
The quarters is where Serena is the most vulnerable at slams; she has been beaten there no less than five times in her career in Paris. But she could not have asked for more than to face Sharapova at that stage. While Sharapova has the highest win-loss percentage on clay of active players, she would have even better figures were it not for Williams. The world no. 1 has beaten her three times on clay since 2012, with the last loss coming in the Roland Garros final last year. Those wins make Serena the only player other than Ana Ivanovic to beat the Russian the past three seasons on the dirt. More ominously for Sharapova, Serena has not lost to Sharapova since 2004 and leads their head-to-head 16-2.
At the same time though, Sharapova could not have asked for more than to meet Serena in what is historically her most dangerous round. Should Sharapova, who claims her recent Rome defeat was a blessing as it allowed her time to practice, be inspired, Serena could see another Roland Garros dream shattered; dreams, which, at the age of 32,are getting less and less vivid.
In the semis, Serena’s projected opponent is Agnieszka Radwanska. However, Radwanska has struggled with injury since Indian Wells and suffered a poor clay season. Most likely to come through the Polish third seed’s segment of the draw is Kerber, who suffered a shock defeat this week in Nurnberg. That loss could wake her up though and if Kerber, who beat Williams in straight sets in Cincinnati in 2012, is as consistent and dogged as she is famous for, that semi could be something of a dogfight.
In the final, Serena should face second seeded Li Na. The Chinese saves her best for slams, winning the French Open in 2011 and the Australian open this year, and would be Serena’s sternest test of the event, but Serena in slam finals is a legend- only Venus, Sharapova and Stosur have managed to get her holding aloft the runner-up plate.
Runner-up is not a finishing position Serena likes to be in and with the French Open being the slam she has had the least success at, she will be even more hungry to devour another slam winner’s trophy than usual. And a hungry Serena is a most unwelcome guest at any opponent’s grand slam final table.
Commentary by Christian Deverille
Tennis net is the regular tennis column of the Guardian Liberty Voice.