Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 25th 2014 Contents A59
May 25, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
PARIS---Serena Williams was wrapping
up her pre-French Open news conference
when someone seated in the front row
wanted to know whether she would take
one question in the local language.
The tournament s defending champion
gave the OK. The reporter proceeded to put
forth a pair of queries, and Williams arched
her eyebrows and kiddingly chastised him---
in French, of course---for asking two. She
went on to answer both, earning a thumb s
up from the media member.
A year ago, Williams won over the fickle
Roland Garros crowd by doing on-court
interviews in French en route to the title,
and the American---who has an apartment
in Paris and is coached by a Frenchman---
is clearly prepared to do more of the same
this time around. What s just as impressive
is her comfort level playing on the Grand
Slam tournament s slow, red clay these days.
Heading into her first-round match Sun-
day against 138th-ranked Alize Lim, a wild-
card entry from France who is making her
Grand Slam singles debut, the No 1-ranked
Williams is 53--2 (a .964 winning percentage)
with eight titles since 2012 on the surface
known around here as "terre battue." Before
that, Williams was 86--29 (.748) with three
titles on clay for her career.
Williams is not entirely sure how to
explain that surge, saying she didn t alter
"I don t know what clicked or didn t
click," she said. "I have the capability of
playing on clay, so I don t know why I wasn t
more consistent on clay before."
And then the 32-year-old Williams broke
into a wide smile before adding: "But, hey,
I guess better late than never, right?"
Absolutely. Indeed, one way to view her
improvement on clay is simply in the context
of a career renaissance that began, not coin-
cidentally, right after a surprising exit against
111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France at
the 2012 French Open, the only first-round
loss for Williams in 54 Grand Slam tour-
It was after that setback that Williams
began working with Patrick Mouratoglou,
who runs a tennis academy in France. She
has since earned four singles trophies at the
past seven majors, raising her Grand Slam
total to 17, one shy of Martina Navratilova
and Chris Evert.
"When Serena is at her best, she s going
to win everything," Evert said. "It s just a
matter of: Is she going to be at her best?"
Consider that the other 127 women in
the field when play begins Sunday own a
combined 19 Grand Slam titles. That includes
seven for Williams older sister Venus.
The siblings could meet in the third round,
which would be their earliest match at a
major since their first---in the second round
of the 1998 Australian Open. They have
played eight all-Williams Grand Slam finals
(Serena won six), but have not met at any
stage of a major tournament since the 2009
"It never gets easier," Serena said. "She s
essentially the love of my life, so it s definitely
Today, the 29th-seeded Venus will face
81st-ranked Belinda Bencic of Switzerland,
who s appearing in only her second major
tournament. Other top players in action on
Day 1 include 17-time major champion Roger
Federer against Lukas Lacko, No 6 Tomas
Berdych against Peter Polansky, and No 3
Agnieszka Radwanska against Zhang Shuai.
Radwanska, who lost to Serena in the
Wimbledon final two years ago, is among
the women who harbor realistic hope of
making a deep run over the next 15 days.
That group also includes 2011 French Open
champion and reigning Australian Open
champion Li Na; 2008 French Open winner
Ana Ivanovic; and Maria Sharapova, who
won the 2012 title in Paris to complete a
career Grand Slam, then lost to Serena in
last year s final.
One possible matchup that will be on
everyone s radar: Sharapova could face Ser-
ena in the quarterfinals. Asked about that
after Friday s draw, Sharapova danced around
Serena is coming off a title on clay at the
Italian Open, which could be a harbinger.
The only other two times she was the cham-
pion in Rome were the only years she went
on to become the champion in Paris, in
2002 and 2013. Now she will try do some-
thing she s never done at the French Open
but has at each of the other three majors:
win two consecutive titles.
"I don t remember the last time I was
defending champ," she said, "so it feels
really good." (AP)
Serena Williams as fluent
in French as on red clay
PARIS---Asked whether a particular moment stands
out from her run to the 1974 French Open champi-
onship, the first of her 18 career Grand Slam singles
titles, Chris Evert let out a loud laugh.
"I m embarrassed to say that my only memory is
that it was my first French Open title. It s 40 years
ago!" Evert said. "I did another interview and I had
to ask the guy who I beat in the final."
For the record, Evert s opponent back then was Olga
Morozova, and the score was 6--1, 6--2. Evert, 19 at
the time, would go on to win a total of seven French
Open trophies, along with six from the US Open, three
from Wimbledon, and two from the Australian Open.
When this year s edition of the clay-court Grand
Slam tournament begins today, Evert will be on hand
at Roland Garros as a TV analyst for ESPN, watching
what s become a changed brand of tennis four decades
"In those days, there weren t very many clay-court
players and the game was serve-and volley. Very few
women knew how to play on clay, because most tour-
naments were on grass or hard courts," Evert said.
"The style sort of depends, in general, on who the No
1 player is, and I might have started a focus on the
clay-court game a little bit more. Because after me,
then came the Steffi Grafs, the Monica Seleses---players
who thought it was OK to get ten or 20 balls in the
"Today it s a lot different," she said. "Everybody s
at the baseline."
That includes Serena Williams, who is seeded No
1 at the French Open and won it last year, more than
a decade after her other championship in Paris, in
2002. Another victory would give Williams 18 major
titles, pulling her even with Evert and her longtime
rival, Martina Navratilova.
"Last year, she came into it just talking about it for
months, how she hadn t won it for ten years and that
was her goal for the year. She mentioned it every tour-
nament," Evert said. "She got that under her belt."
One stat in which Williams has a long way to go
to catch Evert: Grand Slam final appearances. Williams
has played in 21 title matches at major tournaments
(she s 17--4), while Evert played in 34 (she was 18-16).
Evert thinks opponents would have a better chance
to beat Williams---or the 2012 French Open champion,
Maria Sharapova---if they tried to mix things up.
That s how Evert remembers the sport being during
her heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when she spent
260 weeks ranked No 1. (AP)
40 years ago...
Evert won first
Serena Williams of the US, returns the ball while her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, right, looks
on during a training session for the French Open tennis tournament, at the Roland Garros
stadium in Paris, yesterday. The French Open tennis tournament starts today. AP PHOTO
PARIS---Tenth-ranked Kei Nishikori s hurt
left hip is not completely healed, but he said
yesterday that it "should be OK" for the
start of the French Open.
The first Japanese player to reach the ATP s
top ten said at Roland Garros that treatment
he received for the injury while recuperating
last week at home in Florida helped.
"It s getting better," Nishikori said. "It s
obviously not 100 per cent yet, bu...it should
The 24-year-old Nishikori was forced to
pull out of the final of the clay-court Madrid
Open against Rafael Nadal on May 11 because
of the hip, ending a 14-match winning streak
that included a title on clay at the Barcelona
Nishikori won the first set against Nadal
and then was leading 4--2 in the second when
the pain came. Nishikori continued to play
for a while, but stopped after dropping seven
games in a row to drop the second set and
trail 3--0 in the third.
Afterward, Nishikori said he had been
"playing almost (the) best tennis in my life"
at the outset of that match against Nadal, an
eight-time champion at the French Open.
Nishikori withdrew from the Italian Open
the following week and headed to Florida.
He has been practicing this week on the
red clay at Roland Garros, coached by 1989
French Open champion Michael Chang.
The tournament begins today. Nishikori,
who is seeded ninth in Paris, is scheduled to
face 62nd-ranked Martin Klizan of Slovakia
in the first round. (AP)
Nishikori: Injury better but 'not 100 per cent'
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