'Old Lady' Serena out to beat kids

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/s/serenawilliams_ap.jpg' class='caption'> Serena Williams, now a French Open veteran, would look to win her second Grand Slam on clay against several younger players in the fray.

Updated: May 27, 2008 06:57 IST
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All the talk is of the new generation --- Maria Sharapova or Ana Ivanovic --- to win the French Open and replace the freshly-retired Justine Henin as world No 1.

But the "veteran" Serena Williams believes this could be the year she adds a second Roland Garros crown to the one she won in the final against sister Venus in 2002.

Still only 26 years old despite having been in the spotlight for a decade, Williams was bubbling with confidence when she met the press ahead of Sunday's kick-off to the year's second Grand Slam tournament.

"It's probably the best preparation I've had since 2002. I feel like I've played so many clay court tournaments," the American former world No 1 said.

"I just really am feeling like a real clay court player, which, I think, is important for me. I'm really comfortable out there on the clay, so it's great."

The younger of the Williams sisters is just one of the potential story-lines in what is gearing up to be one of the most unpredictable women's tournaments in Paris in years.

Henin, had she competed, would once again have been the hot favourite having won the last three straight in Paris.

But her shock retirement announcement last week has suddenly opened the doors for a number of players.

Sharapova is the new world No 1 and freely admits that the slow clay surface of Roland Garros is not her favourite surface, but she is dismissive of those who say that she can never win in Paris as she has already done at Wimbledon and at the US and Australian Opens.

"To be quite honest, it's quite amazing to be 21 years old and have somebody tell you that it's the only Grand Slam that you not haven't won," she said.

"Coming here last year I knew that this was one of the two I haven't won, And coming in this year it's the one that I haven't won.

"I've always said it. It's the toughest one - it's always going to be in my career, to win. But that's why I'm here. I've said it every single year. I love the challenges.

Sharapova's win in the Australian Open in January came in the final at the expense of Serbia's rising Ana Ivanovic, six months her junior and bent on usurping the Russian's crown.

But while she clearly has the raw talent, there remains a question mark over her mental fortitude on the big occasions.

This was showcased in last year's final when she collapsed to a 6-1, 6-2 defeat to Henin after breaking the Belgian's serve in the opening game and going 40-0 up on her own serve only for one dodgy toss up to derail her.

"It just hit me where I was in that single moment as I tossed the ball up to serve," she said.

"I started to think 'Oh, my God, don't panic now' and the more I thought about it the more I panicked.

"You just don't know if it will happen again, but I will definitely know how to deal with it better."

That leaves the rest of the Russian brigade with any of 2006 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2004 runner-up Elena Dementieva, Anna Chakvetadze or Vera Zvonareva capable of mounting a challenge.

Hopes of a first French win on home soil since Mary Pierce in 2000 look dim.

Amelie Mauresmo looks set to be in a downward spiral and will be lucky to make it past the first week, Marion Bartoli is not at her best on clay and last week's surprise Italian Open finalist Alize Cornet is still too tender at just 18.

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