Pay-back time for Serena Williams at French Open
Serena Williams will be out to end 11 years of frustration on Saturday when she takes on defending champion Maria Sharapova in a French Open final featuring the two top seeds for the first time in 18 years.sports Updated: Jun 07, 2013 08:43 IST
Serena Williams will be out to end 11 years of frustration on Saturday when she takes on defending champion Maria Sharapova in a French Open final featuring the two top seeds for the first time in 18 years.
The American's first, and to date only title win at Roland Garros, came in 2002 when she defeated sister Venus in a final she says she remembers nothing about.
Since then Williams has etched her name in the history books of tennis, taking her haul of Grand Slam singles titles to 15, just three shy of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who are tied for fourth on the all-time list.
Five Australian Open titles, five at Wimbledon and four at the US Open, yet the French Open title count has remained stubbornly stuck at one.
On top of that, the Roland Garros claycourts and the French public have seldom been kind to the American, preferring the easy charm of Kim Clijsters, the pure talent of Justine Henin and the glamour of Sharapova to her perceived brash American character and style of play.
Much of that appears to have changed this year with Williams gaining warm applause for speaking French in her post-match, on-court interviews and going on about how much she loves Europe and France in particular.
On the face of it, Sharapova, at 26, five years younger than Williams, has every reason to be worried over the outcome of Saturday's showdown.
Since beating the American in the WTA Championships as a 17-year-old teenager at the end of 2004, she has lost to her 12 straight times, taking just three sets in the process. She has never beaten Williams on clay.
Asked if that long run of defeats weighed heavily on her mind as she prepared to compete in the eighth Grand Slam final of her career, Sharapova agreed that it did rankle.
"I don't think that it would be a pretty competitive statement if I said it didn't," she said.
"I would love to change that around. I'd be lying if I say it doesn't bother me, obviously.
"Obviously whatever I did in the past hasn't worked, so I'll have to try to do something different and hopefully it will work.
"I'm proud of the way that I came through this tournament. I have given myself a chance to face the favourite."
If there is a glimmer of hope to be taken by Sharapova, it perhaps comes from the performance of fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had Williams on the rack in the quarter-finals.
Leading by a set and at break point for a 3-0 lead in the second, the 2009 French Open winner had victory in her sights only for Williams to dig her way out of a deep hole with some powerful hitting.
That has been the only chink to be seen in the Williams' armoury since the start of the tournament, but it does show that, despite being on a career-best 30-match winning streak, she is still prone to the occasional off day, something she readily admits to.
"That (having an off-day) can happen on any day. That can happen to anyone on any day. That's why I really just every day try to do the best I can," she said.
"And when I'm not, I just try to fight through it, because my forehand, my backhand, my serve, anything could happen."
Whatever happens on Saturday, the final will be compelling viewing, opposing the two biggest names and biggest earners in women's sport.
The hope would be that they can stretch it out to three sets, which would be the first time that had happened in a French Open women's final since Jennifer Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the deciding set in 2001.