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tennisIlove09
Jun 6th, 2003, 08:22 AM
Clay always a challenge for Serena
By Pam Shriver
Special to ESPN.com


PARIS -- From the beginning, I really felt the French Open would be different from the other majors. First of all, because it's played on clay. And in Venus Williams' case, her form already had been so below par with injuries, etc. Her sister Serena had lost both clay-court events coming into this event. Because of that, the three main clay-court contenders had reason to feel more confidence coming into the major, so you knew this would be Serena's toughest assignment in a year-and-a-half.

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Shriver
Former WTA Tour pro Pam Shriver is providing ESPN.com with in-depth analysis throughout the French Open. Shriver, a tennis analyst for ESPN, was ranked as high as No. 3 in singles play. She won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.


Plus being the No. 1 seed did her no favors. She had the toughest quarterfinal against Amelie Mauresmo, the toughest semifinal against Justine Henin-Hardenne and, although it doesn't matter now, what would have been a tough final. The No. 1 seed had no favors.

Even greats like Serena are not going to win all the matches at majors forever. However, it had been two years since Serena had lost to the same person twice in a row (Jennifer Capriati). Then the way she took apart Mauresmo with such a dominant performance, I still favored her against Henin-Hardenne. But the overall draw worked against her.

Last year, too many of Serena's rivals just rolled over. This year, starting with the Australian open -- even though Kim Clijsters from 5-1 up in the third set rolled over -- more players challenged. Henin-Hardenne is the leader of that pack. She's now beaten her twice. She is the one who is consistently working as hard or harder than anyone else. She is developing the belief. Her only problem is, based on talking to her coach Carlos Rodriguez, she tends to go into her shell after a success and does not have belief in her next step. So that leads us to the final on Saturday.

I know there's not a U.S. player involved, but what a matchup. It's the kind of match tennis insiders love. It's young, talented athletes with some confidence who will just scratch and claw until the end and still be friends.

You could pick either player and I'd be happy to argue why they're going to win. Henin-Hardenne is slightly better right now. Earlier this year it was Clijsters. They just go back and forth.

If Henin-Hardenne stays out of her shell and wants it and believes, she is slightly better. It is such a close one. Talk about entertainment. Together they've got every shot and fabulous movement to cover the court. Anybody who loves tennis should watch.