'J'adore Paris... ' – Serena Williams sets out to win French hearts

World No 1 speaks the fans' language as she aims for her first French title since 2002

Paul Newman@PaulN54
Sunday 26 May 2013 23:15

Serena Williams could have been forgiven for not liking the French Open. This is the only Grand Slam tournament the American has not won in the last 10 years and she has not always enjoyed the best support from the Parisian public. In 2003, as the defending champion, she broke down in tears after the stadium turned against her in her semi-final with Justine Henin and even last year she had to contend with a raucously one-sided crowd as she suffered her first defeat in the opening round of a Grand Slam tournament, losing to the Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano.

The world No 1, nevertheless, has a flat in Paris and a French coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, whose academy on the outskirts of the capital is her European training base. Today Williams played what should be a trump card in terms of finally winning over the locals: having beaten Georgia's Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 in her opening match, Williams conducted her post-match interview on the court entirely in French. "I think I am French because I have an apartment here," Williams told the crowd. "I love Paris."

She later explained: "I've been speaking French for years and years, but I don't really have a lot of confidence. I just had to kind of jump in. Once I get there and I get warmed up, I know how to say things and what I can speak. It's just getting that confidence to speak in French. It's way, way, more nerve-wracking than playing tennis."

Tatishvili, the world No 83, had never gone beyond the first round in four previous appearances here. When she trailed 6-0, 3-0 it seemed that the first "double bagel" of the tournament was on the cards. The 23-year-old Georgian finally won a game at the 10th attempt, but after just 51 minutes her day was done.

While Williams was licking her wounds last year after her early exit, Italy's Sara Errani was making her big breakthrough. The 26-year-old Italian entered the 2012 tournament ranked No 24 in the world, having never beaten a top 10 opponent, but went on to reach her first Grand Slam final, knocking out two former champions, Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova, as well as Sam Stosur, the 2010 runner-up.

Errani has never looked back since. Last week she climbed to a career-high No 5 in the world rankings, while she is also part of the world's top doubles team with her compatriot, Roberta Vinci. Errani's 6-1, 6-2 victory over the Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus was her 75th match of 2013 (she has played 45 in singles and 30 in doubles), which is more than many players manage in a full year.

Describing last year's event as "the best tournament of my life," Errani said she was trying to put such memories out of her mind.

"I just want to come here and play another tournament, a new tournament like I do every other week," she said. "I try to concentrate on my tennis, not think too much about last year."

Ivanovic won the title here in 2008, though the 25-year-old Serb said after an edgy 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Petra Martic that "it feels like yesterday – just scary how fast five years go by". The former world No 1 has often struggled since her finest hour here, but earlier this month she reached the semi-finals in Madrid, where she also passed the $10m (£6.6m) mark for career prize money.

Laura Robson, the British No 1, plays her opening match today against Caroline Wozniacki, who has lost four first-round matches in succession on clay. The former world No 1 is looking for a new coach after her father, Piotr, said he was "tired of it all" and did not want to travel any more.

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