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Serena back at French Open after three years

sports Updated: May 26, 2007 16:47 IST

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

The American's sole win 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 (always deadly in claycourt tennis) has seen her struggle failing to even take part in 2005 and 2006.

But her remarkable win in the Australian Open in January has propelled Serena, still only 25 years old, back to the forefront and this week's WTA rankings have her back in the world top 10 for the first time since late 2005.

She has been serious about her preparations for Paris, taking part in the Italian Open and despite losing to Patty Schnyder she was resolutely upbeat abour 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 that her gutsy return to the fray this year will take an edge off the chill reception she has been used to getting on the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court.

Notably, she walked off to a stony silence after crushing home heroine Amelie Mauresmo in straight sets in the 2003 quarter-finals and she was in tears after a hostile reception against Justine Henin in the ensuing semis.

The following year she made the quarters once again but crashed out to an inspired Jennifer Capriati and she has not been seen at the Porte D'Auteil since then.

But she knows that a win in Paris on her least-favourite surface would set her up for Wimbledon and the US Open - the two she likes most - and what would be the first calendar Grand Slam by a woman since Steffi Graf in 1988.