Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Serena may struggle at French Open, but remains favorite at Wimbledon
By ADAM ZAGORIA
An unseeded Serena Williams will be a dangerous floater but figures to struggle at the French Open next week, according to 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova.
Navratilova still believes Williams will be the favorite at Wimbledon in July despite her lack of match play since giving birth to her first child in September. While she was No. 1 when she left the tour to give birth, Williams is currently ranked No. 453.
Williams will open against 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic, and could face rival Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
“I’m thinking that Serena is always going to a tournament thinking she can win,” Navratilova, a Tennis Channel analyst, said Tuesday on a conference call. “But realistically speaking, she’s may be thinking more in terms of just getting some matches under her belt, hit a lot of balls so she’s ready for Wimbledon. She still is a favorite for me to win Wimbledon. The clay is going to be a tricky proposition for her.”
Williams, 36, has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, but only three of those have come in Paris, the last in 2015. She has won Wimbledon and the Australian Open seven times apiece, and the US Open six times. She will enter Roland Garros unseeded after playing just four matches in 2018 it was announced Monday. Her most recent match was at Miami in March when she lost to Naomi Osaka, 6-3, 6-2.
“Just from a tennis perspective, purely tennis perspective, Serena hasn’t had a match in a long time,” Navratilova said. “She’s had a few matches since the Australian Open…So that just in itself is really hard to overcome. Combine that with the fact that the French Open and clay is Serena’s least favorite surface, at least resultwise. Her game doesn’t pay off on clay nearly as much as it does on other surfaces. I can definitely relate to that. It makes it that much more difficult to win matches. You can’t just blast through people, you have to work the points, hit a lot of shots. Clay makes it more difficult when you are rusty to succeed.”
The WTA is considering a rule change to add protected seeding for highly ranked players returning from maternity leave but the earliest that could take effect is next year. Several players, including Maria Sharapova, have voiced support for the change.
“I think something does need to be done about that,” Navratilova said. “Clearly if I were still playing, I certainly don’t want to play Serena in the first or second round. I want her to be seeded. I want her to be seeded reasonably well. That rule needs to be looked at, maybe penalize somewhat the seeding, take your best six results instead of 12 results from when you last had a full ranking or something.”
US Davis Cup Captain and Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier concurred that “making a new rule for maternity leave…would be very appropriate.”
As for William’s chances in Paris, Courier conceded “there’s a lot of unknowns.”
“If she gets to the second week, she’s a threat to win,” he said. “Can her body withstand the rigors of the tournament having not had a lot of match play?
“There are a lot of unknowns. She’s been through it before, but not having come back from a maternity break, but also the seriousness of some of her issues on the back end of that pregnancy, which were substantial. It will be fascinating to watch. Can’t wait to see her back on the court. We know she loves Paris. She has a home there. She’s going to want to stick around.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.