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Long French leave fails to faze Serena

Serena Williams returns to the slow clay courts at the French Open for the first time in three years next week.

sports Updated: May 26, 2007 02:49 IST

Serena Williams returns to the slow clay courts at the French Open for the first time in three years next week, but no one is betting against her winning the tournament for just the second time.

The American’s only title in Paris came in 2002, when she defeated sister Venus in the final, sparking off one of the greatest runs in the history of women’s tennis as she won four Grand Slam events in a row.

Since then, however, a mixture of injuries and lack of application has seen her struggle, failing to even take part in 2005 and 2006. But her remarkable win at the Australian Open in January propelled Serena back to the forefront. And this week’s rankings have her back in the top 10 for the first time since 2005.

She has been serious about her preparations for Paris, taking part in the Italian Open and, despite losing to Patty Schnyder, was resolutely upbeat about her chances. “I’m really confident,” she said. “I feel like I’m getting there, fitness-wise. I feel like I can hit a lot of balls. I feel like I’ll really enjoy myself there and obviously have nothing to lose. I’m going to do well, and I think once I start believing that it’ll happen.”

Williams will be hoping her gutsy return this year will take the edge off the chill reception she has been used to on the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court. She walked off to a stony silence after crushing home heroine Amelie Mauresmo in straight sets in 2003 quarterfinals, and was in tears after a hostile reception against Justine Henin in the ensuing semis.

But she knows that a win on her least-favourite surface would set her up for Wimbledon and the US Open — and, for the record, enable her to achieve what would be the first calendar Grand Slam by a woman, since Steffi Graf in 1988.