It seems odd to say, given how many times Serena Williams has won Wimbledon, but there’s an argument to be made right now that the American is an even bigger favourite at the French Open, which starts at Roland Garros on Sunday.
Champion in Paris in 2002, it took Serena until 2013 to win it again but all the evidence suggests she’s the most likely winner there this time too. Victory in Rome showed she is over a thigh strain and victory in Paris would put her alongside Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on 18 grand slam titles.
Providing she can handle the pressure – she still feels less of a favourite in Paris than she does at Wimbledon, however – and providing she stays fit, the question is: can anyone stop her? Ana Ivanovic came relatively close in Rome and here are three others who might fancy their chances if the wind blows the right way. I only said might.
Ok, so as with almost all her rivals, Serena’s dominated Li Na over their careers, with an 11-1 record. However, Li looks to be galvanised again this year. Not only is she the Australian Open champion, she’s won in Paris before and is playing, more often not, great tennis. Her movement around the court, so crucial on the slippery clay, is excellent and if the weather is good, she will relish the conditions. As fit as Serena, Li has been there and done it and a final between the world’s top two might be a contest.
The Russian has been blowing more cold than hot over the last few years but something’s clicked and she is playing nicely again. Still only 28, Kuznetsova is a great clay-court player when in the mood and although she’s won just twice against Serena in nine meetings, one of them came in 2009 at the French Open. A distant memory that might be – and a lot has changed since – but Kuznetsova moves well, can play great tennis at times, and if she can sustain it, she’s a threat.
Jankovic has beaten Serena four times in her career, out of 13, and though two of them came in their first three meetings, the Serb is playing the best tennis she’s managed since she fell from the No 1 ranking in 2009. Fully fit again, back with a down to earth coach and doing the simple things well once more, she looks like her old self. Coping with Williams is a massive task, of course, but she’s won one of their two clay-court meetings and the other went to three sets, so there’s something there.