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Coupe Coup: Who Will Stop Serena At Roland Garros?
By Andrea Leand
04/26/2003

To this day, Serena Williams says her French Open victory last year remains the sweetest of them all. She was just as surprised as the rest of the field by triumphing on a surface that had proved the most frustrating to her over the years. In fact, it took Williams four attempts on the red dirt before she mastered the mobility and mental tenacity needed to overturn Jennifer Capriati in the semifinal and sister Venus in the final.

This time, as the defending champion rather than the challenger, Serena must execute under different pressures. Her loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne at the Family Circle Cup in April revealed chinks in the otherwise invincible front she has displayed all year. The American green clay neutralized Serena’s brazen strokes and allowed her slighter — although steadier — adversary to exploit her impatience.

But who will be able to take advantage of such opportunities at Roland Garros? If recent results have given the prime competition some impetus, they will need to pick up their training programs several notches if they are to challenge for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. The Roland Garros red clay does not humor half-hearted efforts well. There are no free points on a surface that extends matches well beyond daylight. Velocity of foot (rather than stroke) means more at this major, where the sturdiest mentally usually outlast big hitters. Playing superior defense pays better dividends than flashy aggression. In the sport’s ultimate dirt battle, often the most mischievous competitors emerge the victor.

Capriati has done it before and has the equipment to snag another French Open title. It is all up to her. If she continues to party as hard as she competes, burning the candle at both ends, she will not reach the semifinals. If she takes her craft seriously, trains adequately and plays to her potential, she can win as many titles as she wants.

Venus Williams is certainly not partying the nights away, but still has produced lackluster performances this year. Call it what you want: boredom, disinterest, lack of passion or confidence, disappointment. It still adds up to Venus simply not playing to her potential. Getting bumped off by little sister in four consecutive Grand Slam tournament finals (starting last year with the French Open) may have deflated her desire, if not ego, but there has been plenty of time to heal and reboot. We know Venus is smart, fast and powerful. We know that she has the weapons and wile to win any match, any title. What we do not know is whether she has the will. A more purposeful Venus may mean a first-time French Open title for the four-time Grand Slam titleholder, but if she shows up hoping to survive by going through the motions, she could lose in the early rounds.

In contrast, Lindsay Davenport crosses all her “T”s in training and is in the best physical condition of her career. Her lack of mobility and consequent inability to out-rally the game’s clay court retrievers has cost her at the French Open. The marathon matches, even in the early rounds, just seem to take more out of the 6-foot-2, 155-pound American. She won the other majors on faster surfaces with a combination of power, precision and competitive edge. With the quick games and free points, she did not have to slide or shift in 20-30 ball rallies as she must to win on red clay. To this extent, Davenport must produce a dogged determination and desire to stay on court as long as it takes to win every point and match. Having achieved her career goals, as she admits, Davenport may no longer have the mental fortitude to dig out balls in the mud, cake her socks and shoes with red clay and literally win the dirty way, the only way.

That leaves those undeniably talented Belgian stars, Kim Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne. After reaching the final at other Slams and notching prime tour titles this year, they are both due to swipe their first major. Their familiarity with the surface, having grown up on clay, gives them their best shots at taking a Grand Slam title this year in Paris. Henin-Hardenne possesses the more natural clay court game, with her whipping topspin backhand and agility. Beneath that lithe 5-foot-5, 110-pound frame lies a fighter with an edge as sharp and feisty as the French crowds. With a serve as soft as any cream puff patisserie, Henin-Hardenne must show that she has the resilience and mental might to fend off the more muscular to capture her first Grand Slam title.

Clijsters knows vicariously what it is like to win a Grand Slam tournament after watching boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt capture two. The difference in taking the winner’s circle herself has been so slight. A few shaky nerves cost her this year’s Australian Open title. Such an experience might prove just enough to help her better deal with such big moments again. She has proven that she can run and compete with the best. Now she must show that she has the steely nerve to beat them.

Serena already overcame such personal hurdles last year. She knows how to pick up the pace, play the big points and finish out a match. Her 28-match Grand Slam win streak reminds us why she is the one to beat. After last year’s exhilarating victories over Capriati and Venus, Serena knows what she must do to prepare. What sets her apart from the rest is that she puts in the work and shows up in the best condition. Such superior fitness creates her burgeoning confidence. If a dark horse such as Amelie Mauresmo, Chanda Rubin or Meghann Shaughnessy, along with the top seeds, grabbed a page from Serena’s training book, there might be a new French Open champion this year. But as Serena would say, "That’s a big ‘if.’"

Senior Correspondent Andrea Leand played in the French Open three times, enjoying her best results in 1982, when she reached the round of 16.
 

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Thanks for posting this article. I thought the writer's analysis was very superficial and repetitive. I could be wrong, but, I think the AO causes upsets because it's the first Slam of the year and the FO causes upsets because of the surface. I expect a former professional to write about this aspect of the clay and discuss more players than "the usual suspects". I'm also curious as to why the author names Jennifer as a possible contender if she truly believes Jennifer has partied [sp] herself out of form.
 

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Justine :)
 

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on clay...anyone. Venus is the top pick, but who knows if she's over giving things to Serena. Capriati always tests her; Henin just beat her; Clay would favor Kim's odds. And there are so many clay specialists that could beat her if she's off.
 

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tennisIlove09 said:
on clay...anyone. Venus is the top pick, but who knows if she's over giving things to Serena. Capriati always tests her; Henin just beat her; Clay would favor Kim's odds. And there are so many clay specialists that could beat her if she's off.
Yep anyone can be beaten, even Vee. I think Serena beat her fair and square in those matches and she didn't give up anything. IMO, Vee needs to work on those flaws because that's the only thing that's holding her back against Serena.

Also, who is to say that if Kim beat Serena in the AO semis she would of beaten Vee in the finals? This is the second time I have heard this. I mean their is a reason why their is a semis and a finals played. Whatever!!!

And like I said I'm happy that Henin beat Serena at the FCC, because that will motivate her to train harder. And she has seemed to get serious again and stopped slagging off. If she would of wen't into the French undefeated, she would of had a false sense of training and would not be as prepared. She knows what she needs to do and will handle it, and that's what I admire about her.

The FO could go to one of the top 4 IMO, but Venus and Serena are gonna be hard to beat. Good luck to all the players vying for the title!!!!
 

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jmp said:
Thanks for posting this article. I thought the writer's analysis was very superficial and repetitive. I could be wrong, but, I think the AO causes upsets because it's the first Slam of the year and the FO causes upsets because of the surface. I expect a former professional to write about this aspect of the clay and discuss more players than "the usual suspects". I'm also curious as to why the author names Jennifer as a possible contender if she truly believes Jennifer has partied [sp] herself out of form.
i agree........this analysis has been said and said over so many times
that i dont really care for this article anyways

AO causes upsets, i believe that's coz the bounce is quite different,
i think Roddick said that the bounce for him is hard to get used
coz that surface does not appear anywhere other than AO,
remember Hingis always warmed up in Sydney and she is
quite used to that surface already.............


to upset Serena on clay is not that hard to do "relatively"
Anca Barna's LH serve on clay will be good..........
and Schnyder's spins should cause Serena some problem
like Loit showed us, give Serena spins, and Serena
doesnt really have much experience on red clay,
if she wins Rome/Berlin, it's gonna be hard to beat her,
but i believe Paola Saurez has the weapon to take Serena out
if they meet "early"......like 3R......or Clarisa if she is on,
 

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hahahahahahahaaa...

i love how the first responses are...

'JUSTINE'

and then...

'GO MONICA!'


LoL! i just find that quite funny!

so who will stop Serena at Roland Garros?

HERSELF! duhhh..

no...jennifer will. because she is sooo fit. she's been working on a 2ND comeback. and a new powerful serve that can actually find its way in the service box! :eek:
 

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"With a serve as soft as any cream puff patisserie"... nice metaphor, but does the writer know what she's talking about? After the Williams sisters and Davenport, Henin is probably the biggest server in the women's game, and she goes for both first and second serves.
 

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After the Williams sisters and Davenport, Henin is probably the biggest server in the women's game
After Williams/Davenport, Henin is possibly the biggest server?

Get a hold of yourself.

Molik, Stevenson, Shaughnessy, Tulyaganova, Bielik... the list can go on.
 

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i think he was talking bout the top 10

but saying that if u think about first serves then
serena
venus
Jennifer
lindsay
Kim
Justine
 

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OK, so there are others with bigger serves, but Henin can hit it big and consistently, and moreover can use it more intelligently than someone like Stevenson - she can certainly get it in the box more often than Capriati. The writer seemed to be suggesting that she had a weak serve that she just rolled in to start the point, which certainly ain't the case.
 

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G_Slammed said:
After Williams/Davenport, Henin is possibly the biggest server?

Get a hold of yourself.

Molik, Stevenson, Shaughnessy, Tulyaganova, Bielik... the list can go on.
Henin does have better serve than them,
good serve is not= to speed,
Henin can generate better spins than a lot of 'em,
though i dont think she has "the best" serve after
the real power houses..
but her serve is nothing to joke about
 

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Jen Cappy :)
Kimmy Clijsters :p
Ju Ju Henin :cool:
Mauresmo :drool:
Venus :lick:

they have chances to stop Serena on clay !!!
 

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I have the feeling this RG will be full of surprises, don't ask me why but I have it
 

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tennisIlove09 said:
Remember the 2001 RG? That was FULL of surprises...maybe it will be more of the same
I hope!!!!
The belgians, Jen wining...the fantastic final ....Corretja losing another RG (I always say he's the Ivanisevic of RG, I only hope he's happy ending too:p)
 
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