May 26, 2013

Best ever? Game, set, match go to Williams

Those who ought to know say Serena Williams is the top female player ever, despite troubles in Paris.

By HOWARD FENDRICH The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Serena Williams
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Serena Williams

AP

FRENCH OPEN AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Roland Garros

SURFACE: Red clay

SCHEDULE: The 15-day tournament begins Sunday. The women's singles final is June 8; the men's singles final is June 9.

DEFENDING CHAMPS: Men -- Rafael Nadal, Spain; women -- Maria Sharapova, Russia

LAST YEAR: Nadal beat Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 for his record seventh French Open championship and 11th Grand Slam title overall. The loss ended Djokovic's 27-match winning streak at major tournaments and stopped his bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 with four consecutive Grand Slam titles. Sharapova defeated Sara Errani of Italy 6-3, 6-2 to complete a career Grand Slam, adding to her titles at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008.

KEY STATISTIC I: 52-1. That's Nadal's career record at the French Open. His only loss came in 2009 against Robin Soderling in the fourth round.

KEY STATISTIC II: 30. The number of years since a man from France (Yannick Noah, the father of current Chicago Bulls player Joakim Noah) won the country's major tennis tournament -- or any Grand Slam singles title.

PRIZE MONEY: Total is about $28.4 million, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2012, with $1.9 million each to the men's and women's singles champions, an increase of 20 percent.

TELEVISION SUNDAY: 5 a.m., ESPN2; noon, NBC

"With her serve and her athleticism, her power, her court mobility -- I just think when she's on, she's the greatest player we've ever seen. Ever," Evert said. "Now, whether her record is the greatest remains to be seen because she hasn't retired yet. But I think she is really the greatest player, (and) I have seen Martina and Steffi at their best."

It's that serve that might very well be Williams' greatest advantage over her contemporaries.

She leads the tour this season in most significant serving categories: 227 aces, nearly 80 more than the next-highest count; 85 percent of service games won; 77 percent of first-serve points won; 68 percent of break points saved.

Williams still seems to bring out her most compelling tennis when across the net from the game's other top women: She is a combined 25-4 for her career against current No. 2 Maria Sharapova, the French Open's defending champion, and No. 3 Victoria Azarenka.

That includes a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Sharapova in Madrid, and a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Azarenka in Rome -- both in finals, both this month, and both on the same red clay used in Paris.

"She's been really consistent, playing on a high level. Because, you know, we all know the level she can play at," Azarenka said. "It wasn't maybe as consistent as it is now, so I think that's maybe the big difference."

Now the question becomes whether Williams can carry that over to Roland Garros, where the tough footing and shot-slowing surface give her far more trouble than the grass or hard courts used at other Grand Slam tournaments. While she's won Wimbledon and the Australian Open five times apiece, and the U.S. Open four times, Williams is stuck on one French Open title.

That's also her only appearance in the final. She hasn't even made it to the semifinals in France since the year after that, a decade ago.

"It's long overdue, her second French Open win," Evert said.

"It's mind-boggling to me that she hasn't been in the final since 2002."

 

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