View Full Version : Will Serena Williams prevail despite a scribe's doubts?

May 26th, 2007, 07:44 PM
By Christopher Clarey
Published: May 25, 2007

Call me slow to learn my lesson, but call me a doubter when it comes to Serena Williams and this French Open.

Williams, of course, uses benighted scribes like me for soul food.

Doubt and she shakes off rust and excess baggage and wins the Australian Open. Doubt and she saves two match points against Justine Henin after losing the first set at love and ends up winning the match and the tournament in Miami.

Doubt and who, other than Williams, really knows what could come next? First calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988? A return to number one in the computer rankings? A quick fix to global warming? An Oscar?

Still, I'm shinnying out on the thinnest of limbs here and saying it won't be a second singles title at Roland Garros to go with the one she won at her forehand-crushing peak in 2002.

There is the clay, which remains her weakest surface: one that takes some of the sting out of her huge first serve and rewards point construction more than point destruction. There is her health, which remains questionable. There is Henin, the driven Belgian who is in her quarter of the draw. Henin has won the last two French Opens and still deserves to be a slight favorite despite a difficult year by her standards that started with the breakup of her marriage and her hyphenated surname.

There is also the preparation, which sounds like a particularly foolhardy line of reasoning in light of Williams' surplus of self-belief and capacity to hit cruising speed in a hurry. But here's sticking to my thesis, and if you look at her record at the French, her two best years were in 2002 and then 2003, where she was beaten in the semifinals with the help of a little gamesmanship from Henin.

In 2002, the last year she won any clay-court event, Williams played three warm-up tournaments on clay before Roland Garros and logged a total of 13 matches on the surface. In 2003, she played two warmup events and got in nine matches.

This year, because of her persistent leg problems, she played one event and just three matches on the slippery stuff, losing to the shifty Swiss left-hander Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals in Rome and then heading off to train and presumably find a way to make her detractors suffer new and newsworthy indignities over the next two weeks.

She is back in the top 10, after all, sitting at No. 9 this week with her new shorter haircut and familiar optimism, and the disquieting trend for those of us counting her out in Paris is that no other woman is truly on a roll this year.

Maria Sharapova, who looked like she was prepared to snatch the reins of the game after winning last year's United States Open in style, has been knocked off her pedestal repeatedly: twice by Williams in lopsided matches and again on Friday by Aravane Rezai in the Istanbul semifinals. Sharapova likes clay less than Williams and has played even less than Williams in the last two months, which is saying something.

Amélie Mauresmo, last season's testimony to the power of persistence, did manage to win a diamond-encrusted racket in Antwerp after her third straight title there. But she has not won another tournament and missed more than two months because of appendicitis.

Jelena Jankovic seems to be thriving, winning often and winning in Rome last week. Her resourceful, deeply athletic tennis remains a delight to watch and her free-flowing interviews a pleasure to hear. But she has yet to get past the semifinals in a Grand Slam event, has lost twice to Henin on clay this spring and plays more tournaments than Nikolay Davydenko, which, again, is saying something. Others might have taken a break this week to savor Rome and recover, but Jankovic was back in the draw in Strasbourg, France, running down shots in the corners and trying to avoid running down her batteries.

But a Jankovic breakthrough in Paris is still a possibility. So is a first French Open title for last year's finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova.

There are also outsiders like Jankovic's Serbian contemporary Ana Ivanovic, who won the German Open, and the huge-hitting Nicole Vaidisova who remains prone to error-induced implosion.

Williams, no percentage player, has been through a few meltdowns of her own over the years, and yet she keeps swinging away, brushing back the chattering classes and finding a way to hold up the big trophy with her broad smile flashing in the sun.

One suspects that she'll do it again soon, just not at Roland Garros this June.

Simply Stunning, Simply Serena
:worship: 57 Consecutive Weeks as World #1 :worship:
:worship: Olympic Gold Medalist ('00 Doubles w/ Venus) :worship:

May 26th, 2007, 07:57 PM
I don't believe it.
She can do it.

May 27th, 2007, 03:29 AM
well there will always be nay sayers....but hey....more fuel for the fire :D

May 27th, 2007, 04:12 AM
just a hater doing wut they do best. Serena can do it.

May 27th, 2007, 06:45 PM
well there will always be nay sayers....but hey....more fuel for the fire :D

Exactly :)

May 27th, 2007, 07:08 PM
well there will always be nay sayers....but hey....more fuel for the fire :D

Exactly. That's what drives Serena. People counting her out.

May 31st, 2007, 09:46 PM
I think she could win this year, but she's going to need some luck. Most of the top women are having problems, and that will play into her favor. She had even fewer matches under her belt when she won the Australian this year. Still, she could make it easier on herself if she started her matches better. She can't keep dropping the first set and expect to win the matches. At least not when she gets to tougher opponents. The fact that she can do so little prep work and still make the quarters or higher in these tournaments is a real testament to her talent. I don't know of another player who could do it. But still you have to wonder when her talent is not going to be enough.

I have mixed feelings about it, but I still think that if she buckles down and really 'gets into' this tournament, she can win.