May 25, 2012-Serena Williams will start her French Open campaign this weekend with only one initial goal in mind-make it past the first round. Thanks in part to her embarrassing bow out to journey woman Virginie Razzano last spring in the opening round at Roland Garros, Williams will be extra focused from the very start of the tournament.
Secretly however Williams must be tempted to glance two weeks into the future where she has the prospect of claiming her 16th grand slam title. At age 31 and playing some of the best tennis of her career she is the odds on favorite despite clay not being her best surface of play. In fact if she does pick up the win a fortnight from now it will only be the second French title for Williams with her only other title at Roland Garros occurring in 2002.
Williams burst into Paris this week with a firm grasp on the number one ranking after securing two clay court victories in Rome and Madrid in the past month. She has five wins on the year and the only major hiccup so far was the quarterfinal loss to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open.
That loss last January in Australia was one of the few that Williams has experienced since that dreaded match with Razzano last spring. Razzano ranked 111th in the world at the time shocked Williams 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 after coming back in the second set down 1-5 to force a third set. It was the first loss for Williams in the first round of a grand slam tournament.
Williams went on a roll after the French picking up major titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as well as double gold at the Summer Olympics winning both a singles and doubles title with her sister Venus. Considering her career was in question after her health struggles in 2011 with her right foot injury and then the blood clots she developed in her lungs, 2012 was a dream year for Williams even with her early departure in Paris.
Of course there are a few other players hoping to stand in her way. Reigning French Open champion Maria Sharapova is also the 2nd ranked player in the world though the distance between her and Williams when they go head to head seems quite vast. The pair recently met in Madrid a few weeks ago in the final where Serena quickly defeated Sharapova 6-1, 6-4. It brought Williams career record against Sharapova to 13-2.
Victoria Azarenka, currently 3rd in the world picked up the first grand slam of the year in Australia as well as a win in Doha over Williams earlier this spring. Since then though her game has cooled off considerably due largely to an array of injuries. The former number one did reach the finals in Rome against Williams but lost 1-6, 3-6. If she can stay healthy and keep her patience on the court the next few weeks she may be able to make a good run in Paris. She has the physical ability to be one of the best if mentally she can keep her concentration.
Sara Errani is also a player to keep an eye on the next couple of weeks. Ranked 5th in the world she is also half of the number one ranked doubles team. Errani made it to the singles finals against Sharapova last year and though she wasn’t able to capture her first singles grand slam title she did snag the doubles title. Expect her to feel pretty comfortable on the red clay this year as she looks to pick up her first major.
While other players look to make their mark in Paris all eyes will securely be fastened on Williams as she continues on her remarkable career. First up for her is Anna Tatishvili who is ranked 83rd and hardly a well-known player. And if Williams has her way it will be a name that no one continues to remember after their match.