French Open tennis preview: World No 1 Serena Williams shapes up to put last year's Paris horror behind her


Serena Williams will head to Paris for next week's French Open in the form of her life, but the world No 1 will be taking nothing for granted. Williams, who extended her career-best winning streak to 24 matches in Rome on Sunday by beating Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-3 to claim her second Italian Open title, remembers how she seemed just as invincible 12 months ago, only to suffer the most extraordinary defeat of her career.

Williams went to the 2012 French Open unbeaten on clay for more than two years, but lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time when she was beaten by Virginie Razzano, the world No 111.

The 31-year-old American admitted that defeat will be on her mind when she returns to Roland Garros this week, if only because journalists keep reminding her of it.

"I don't want it to be there but I'm sure I'll answer more questions about it," she said. "My goal is just to win a match there this year."

Williams, whose first Rome triumph for 11 years gave her the 51st title of her career and her fifth this year, will reflect, however, that she might never have teamed up with her present coach had she not suffered that defeat. It was in the wake of her early exit from the French Open that she went to Patrick Mouratoglou's academy on the outskirts of Paris looking for somewhere to practise.

"I was dealing with some personal stuff and I didn't want to go home," Williams recalled here last week. "I needed a place to train in Paris and I'd known Patrick a little bit, so I asked him if I could train at his academy. I was there strictly to train. I wasn't looking for a coach. I was just looking for a tennis court."

Mouratoglou, who set up his academy in 1996 and counts Marcos Baghdatis, Grigor Dimitrov and Laura Robson among his former charges, recalls that Williams told him: "I want to win Wimbledon."

Williams, who went on to win not only Wimbledon but also the Olympics and US Open in a glorious summer, still lists her parents as her official coaches, but Mouratoglou has become the key figure in her entourage. Her record since she teamed up with the 42-year-old Frenchman is remarkable: with 67 wins and just three defeats, Williams has won 10 of the 13 tournaments in which she has played in the last 12 months. In February she became the oldest player ever to hold the world No 1 ranking, returning to the top spot for the first time since October 2010.


Get Adobe Flash player


"He's brought a lot of calm to my game," Williams said. "I've obviously had some talent, but I think it's a question of harnessing that talent and moving in the right direction.

"The only other people who were able to do that were my parents. I think Patrick has been able to continue the job that my parents do. So I think it's a good fit coaching-wise. I'm a little intense and I can be a little bit crazy on the court. It's all a balancing act."

Azarenka, who was world No 1 until Williams supplanted her three months ago, had beaten the American in their most recent encounter, halting a run of nine consecutive defeats, but normal business resumed yesterday. The 23-year-old from Belarus should nevertheless draw encouragement from her week's work in Rome, having returned recently from injury. The first four games, which took 33 minutes, could hardly have been tighter. Each player had five break points, but Williams converted two and Azarenka one. From that moment the world No 1 took control, although Azarenka held firm early on in the second set.

By the end Williams had struck 41 winners to the 12 of Azarenka, who twice slammed her racket on the floor in frustration, before giving credit to Williams at the end. "She was better at the key moments," the world No 3 said. Some of the American's play was stunning. She hit ground strokes with conviction and built points with a fine mix of power and patience. In five matches here she dropped just 14 games, with Azarenka and Robson, who both won four games apiece, offering the greatest resistance.

Mouratoglou said afterwards that Williams would be back on the practice court as quickly as possible to prepare for the start of the French Open next Sunday. "It's one of the main goals of the year for her," he said. "These are the events where you write tennis history."

Longest winning runs

Longest winning streaks by women in the Open era:

74 Martina Navratilova (run ended Dec 1984)

66 Steffi Graf (run ended May 1990)

58 Navratilova (run ended Jan 1987)

57 Margaret Court (run ended March 1973)

55 Chris Evert (run ended Sept 1974)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone