Serena calm in fresh bid

She aims to retain Paris crown in another attempt to match Graf's 22 Grand Slam titles

PARIS • Serena Williams will have a third go at winning a 22nd Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, which would draw her level with Steffi Graf as the most successful female tennis player in the Open era.

But to do so, the 34-year-old American will have to achieve something she has so far failed to manage - retain her crown in Paris.

Just three of Williams' 21 Grand Slam titles have come in France - the first in 2002 and then a long gap until 2013 and 2015.

The year after her inaugural French Open title, she lost in three tough sets to eventual winner Justine Henin - hardly a major upset at that time.

But in 2014, she lost a second-round tie to young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, a defeat that recalled her shock first-round exit at the hands of Virginie Razzano two years previously.

That defeat by the lowly-ranked French player resulted in Williams re-dedicating herself to the game under the guidance of French coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

The result has been spectacular, with the American winning two Wimbledon titles, three straight US Opens between 2012 and 2014, one further championship in Paris and the Australian Open in 2015.

Williams, who won her first title in nine months in Rome last weekend, will begin her Paris defence against Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova, the world No. 76 who has yet to make it beyond the second round.

The American star insists she is feeling no pressure.

"I think now it's different because I want to win more than I think most people ever, but also I think it's different now because I don't have anything to prove and I don't have anything - it's just a different feeling," she said.

"Whereas five, 10 years ago, oh, I'm defending and I feel that pressure. Now it's like I'm defending, I'm in Paris, it's cool, and I'm having, you know, the time of my life. I'm just happy to be here."

The victory in Italy came at an opportune moment for her as she had gone title-less since Cincinnati in the build-up to last year's US Open.

Asked how relieved she felt to finally get another win - the 70th of her career - under her belt, Williams replied: "It feels great. But I mean, I have played, let's see, US Open, Australian, Miami, Indian Wells. So it's only four tournaments. So it's not like I was playing every week."

With two-time winner Maria Sharapova out of the picture under a doping cloud, the opposition is expected to come from Europeans in the shape of Germany's Angelique Kerber, who upset Williams in Melbourne, Czech two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 2014 finalist Simona Halep of Romania, Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, as well as ex-No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

FRENCH OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 22, 2016, with the headline 'Serena calm in fresh bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe