Serena set for French Open bid

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Serena Williams rates Paris as her favourite city and that sentiment will be all the stronger should she win a second French Open title, eight years after her f

Updated: May 22, 2010 08:56 IST
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Serena Williams rates Paris as her favourite city and that sentiment will be all the stronger should she win a second French Open title, eight years after her first.

On the face of it, the American diva is facing an uphill battle as she has played just two tournaments since winning the Australian Open in January, losing to Jelena Jankovic in Rome and Nadia Petrova in Madrid.

But the signs are there that she is out to re-establish her claycourt credentials with several factors whetting her appetite.

Firstly, the French Open is the only one of the four majors that she has not won more than once and a triumph on June 5 would give her a 13th major title, taking her one past her childhood idol Billie Jean King.

It would also leave her halfway to achieving the fabled calendar year Grand Slam, last achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988, with her two favourite events - Wimbledon and the US Open to come.

And if that was not enough, sister Venus is back up to number two in the world, the first time the two sisters have filled the top two spots since May 2003, and they could meet in the final as they last did here in 2002.

Wiliams, who will turn 29 in September, arrived at her Paris apartment early after her Madrid exit and has been hard at practice on the Roland Garros courts.

Her early exits in Rome and Madrid, she said, were to be expected given her inactivity, but the matches she played during those tournaments were enough she feels to set her up for a strong run in Paris.

"When you play matches, it's totally different than practise," she said after Madrid. "Getting that match play, you put your body under different levels of stress.

"I feel like I've been under different levels of stress, and hopefully within the next week and a half I'll be better."

Also in her favour is the fact that currently the competition is in disarray.

The Russians are struggling, with the two finalists from last year, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina badly short of form.

Title-holder Kuznetsova is in free-fall having won just four matches in total at her past five tournaments, while Safina, who was world number one a year ago, has played barely a half dozen games since returning from a serious back injury.

Glamour girl Maria Sharapova is also taking it one match at a time as she struggles to bounce back from yet another injury - this time to her elbow.

World number three Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark has yet to show any real form on clay, while Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, although playing well of late, still has to produce her best at a Grand Slam tournament.

The big question mark will surround the form of four-time champion Justine Henin as she continues with the comeback she launched at the start of the year.

When the Belgian retired in May 2008, she was the world number one and the unquestionable queen of the claycourts. Many feel that next week she can take up where she left off.

But her hopes of a seventh Grand Slam title have been hit by a broken finger on her left hand sustained in training and her stirring title win in Stuttgart was followed by a first round exit in Madrid to eventual winner Aravane Rezai of France.

"I can't wait to be back there of course," Henin told Belgian newspapers before packing her bags for Paris.

"There will be a lot of emotion and that won't be easy to handle, but I am very excited to return to Roland Garros, to be back in the locker room and to feel the reaction from the French public who have always looked on me as one of their own.

"Anything can happen because for me 2010 is a transition year.

"The last fortnight has been difficult with my sinusitis, but with heart and determination there should be a way of coming good."

With Belgium's other comeback queen Kim Clijsters out of the picture due to injury, that leaves older sister Venus as possibly the biggest threat to Serena's Paris coronation, if she can get over her distaste for clay.

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