Tennis: Stopping Serena won't be simple, rivals say

AFP, Sunday 25 May 2014

Serena Williams
Serena Williams of the U.S., returns the ball during a training session for the French Open tennis tournament, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Saturday, May 24, 2014. The French Open tennis tournament starts Sunday (Photo: AP)

Maria Sharapova hopes sweet Paris macarons might help, Li Na looks to a savvy coach, and Alize Cornet wants some backing from her home crowd if they are to halt the steamroller that is Serena Williams in the French Open.

The American at 32 may be well into the veteran ranks in Paris, but she believes that like a good wine she is getting better with age.

Last year's domination of the women's game when she won her second title in Paris and her 17th Grand Slam crown in New York has been followed by a patchy 2014.

Titles in Brisbane and Miami have been offset by a an early exit at the Australian Open and a succession of injuries and a loss of form that have left her short of match practice.

It was all looking ominous for the most powerful player in the women's game coming into Paris until last week in Rome when she blasted her way to the title for the loss of just one set.

Suddenly she is once again installed as the overwhelming favourite to win an 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her level with legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time Open-era singles list just four shy of Steffi Graf's top mark of 22.

On the face of it Sharapova, the only women in world sport who earns more than Williams, is facing a near impossible task.

She has a long losing record to the American, including a 6-4, 6-4 pounding in last year's final when she was the defending champion.

Asked what were her favourite things to do in Paris ahead of the French Open she replied: "I eat some macarons. Beside La Duree, there are a couple of others I like to go to. But, yeah, just eat. Eat some more."

Li, the 2011 French Open winner and reigning Australian Open champion said that her coach Carlos Rodriguez, who master-minded Justine Henin's four French Open triumphs, was her sounding board.

"I think he's pretty smart," said the Chinese icon, who at 32 is the same age as Williams. "He always like to change.

"Of course you cannot do exactly the same like 2011. Every year is different."

Cornet, who has become the French number one since the sudden retirement last year of Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, said that playing on home turf was "very special, very different".

"The French crowd is expecting us a lot. Sometimes they are kind of judging us," she added.

"It's tough to handle the pressure because you know that if you do bad you know they are going to be tough with you; but on the other hand, you need to charm them because they are pretty tough to charm," she said.

"But when you have them in your pocket they are just behind you 100% and they can give you wings.

"That's my goal. Trying to have wings with them on the court and fly over my matches. That would be the best scenario possible."

For her part Williams said that she is comfortable with her status as French Open favourite.

"I like being seeded number one," she said. "The favourite part is definitely more pressure. But as Billie Jean King tells me, pressure is a privilege."

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