When Serena Williams pulled out of the semi-final match last weekend against Li Na in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, concern was raised once again about the health of the recently injury plagued tennis player. Williams was coming off a 17-match clay court winning streak which included winning on the much-maligned blue clay in Madrid a few weeks ago. Before Madrid Williams captured the title in Charleston, SC and also threw in two Fed Cup victories.
Citing a lower back injury as her reason for pulling out in Rome, Williams stated that the withdrawal was more of a “precautionary measure” with Roland Garros set to start May 27th. Wimbledon, the Summer Olympics and then the US Open quickly follow making the next few months very busy for the world of tennis.
It does not appear that the injury is significant, as Williams has already been spotted on the grounds in Paris this week putting in some heavy preparation as she seeks her second French Open title. Her decision not to finish in Rome may have been more of a reflection of how serious she is about returning to the winning circle of a Grand Slam tournament.
After winning Wimbledon in 2010, Williams has endured numerous injuries and health setbacks, which have made her take long stretches off away from the game. Perhaps it has forced her to be more cautionary with even mundane injuries such as the one that popped up in Rome. A healthy Serena however is no doubt the clear favorite going into Roland Garros. Her ranking has risen to No.5 on the WTA and there isn’t a player in the top ten that would look forward to see Williams in their draw next week.
Victoria Azarenka the current No. 1 has had a an unbelievable year rising not only to the top ranking, but also claiming her first Grand Slam title in Australia in January. However she met Williams in the final in Madrid two weeks ago and soundly lost 6-1, 6-3. Azarenka was then forced to withdraw in the 3rd round of the BNL d’Italia due to a right shoulder injury. Azarenka has previously failed to get out of the quarters of the French Open, though her side of the draw favors her to advance fairly easily through.
World No. 2 Maria Sharapova is also playing some of the best tennis of her career coming off the clay court win over Li Na in Rome last weekend. It was her 26th WTA championship and if not for the strong play of Azarenka earlier this year she might have a few more. She has lost three times to Azarenka this year, most notably missing out at the Australian Open.
Sharapova however also withstood a recent drubbing from Williams losing in the quarterfinals in Madrid. Ironically it was also by a score of 6-1, 6-3. For Sharapova the clay title is the one Grand Slam that eludes her. She finds herself with the No.2 seed in Paris, which unfortunately for her puts her on a collision course with Williams in the quarterfinals.
Williams however does have a difficult first week ahead of her. She will play French woman Virginie Razzano and then would most likely have to face Arantxa Rus who famously took out Kim Clijsters last year on the red clay. If the tennis plays out accordingly Julia Goerges would then play Williams followed by Caroline Wozniacki. All possible tough matches before the potential quarters against Sharapova.
For Williams however this tournament is the only Grand Slam that she has not won twice and the clock is surely ticking as far adding onto to her 13 Grand Slam singles titles. Perhaps that’s why we are seeing an even more focused and more prepared tennis player as we head into the second Grand Slam of the year.
“I think in general I have much better commitment in tennis,” she told Agence-France Presse. “I just am really 100 percent. I love being on the court now. I love every moment. This is what I live for. After going through everything that I went through, I really kind of appreciate every moment more, especially being out on the court.”
Williams will have a tough road ahead of her if she wants to raise that trophy for the second time. But if she continues to play the next two weeks like she has played the past two months, it is doubtful anyone but her will be raising it.