French Open Showdown: Serena vs. Sharapova

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Serena Williams of the U.S. clenches her fist after scoring against Italy’s Sara Errani, defeating Errani in two sets 6-0, 6-1, in their semifinal match at the French Open tennis tournament, at Roland Garros stadium in Paris, June 6. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
 

by Howard Fendrich
AP Tennis Writer

PARIS (AP) — For a decade, the French Open has presented more problems for Serena Williams than any of the other Grand Slam tournaments.

Her collection of 15 major championships includes five from Wimbledon, five from the Australian Open, four from the U.S. Open … and one from Roland Garros.

Ever since she beat her sister in the 2002 final in Paris, starting a run of four consecutive titles at tennis’ most important events, one thing or another has prevented Williams from a second French Open trophy. She’d love to change that by beating defending champion Maria Sharapova in Saturday’s final.

“It would be awesome for me,” Williams said. “I don’t think there’s anything that can describe how happy I would be.”

When asked whether she now feels comfortable on the tournament’s red clay courts, Williams replied: “Incidentally, I have always felt really comfortable. I just haven’t done great.”

Her history at the tournament has been filled with tough times and earlier-than-expected departures.

In 2003, her 33-match Grand Slam winning streak ended with a three-set loss to Justine Henin in a semifinal marked by Henin’s gamesmanship, a mean-spirited crowd that cheered Williams’ faults, and the American’s post-match tears.

In 2004, Williams lost in three sets to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals, the same round that saw her bid adieu in 2007 (against Henin again), 2009 (Svetlana Kuznetsova) and 2010 (Sam Stosur). Williams lost in the third round in 2008, and missed the French Open in 2005, 2006 and 2010 with various health problems.

Last year brought the most surprising defeat of all, against 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France, the only first-round exit for Williams in 51 career Grand Slam appearances.

“She was so mad,” Williams’ mother, Oracene Price, recalled Thursday.

Instead of sulking, Williams got right back to work, sticking around Paris — where she owns an apartment — and training at coach Patrick Moratouglou’s tennis academy. How did that work out? Well, since that Razzano match, Williams is 73-3, with titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the London Olympics and the WTA Championships last season, along with a tour-leading five titles so far in 2013. At 31, she is the oldest woman to be ranked No. 1.

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