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
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor