French Open: The Only Person Who Can Stop Serena Williams Is Serena Williams

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2013

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 26:  Serena Williams of the United States of America serves in her Women's Singles match against Anna Tatishvili of Georgia during day one of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 26, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Fifty-one minutes. 

That’s all the time Serena Williams needed to exorcise the demons from last year’s first-round French Open loss to Virginie Razzano. Anna Tatishvili, the 23-year-old Georgia native ranked No. 74, played the part of the sacrificial lamb as Serena blitzed her, 6-0, 6-1.

Williams wasn't going to be stopped on Sunday; that’s for sure. And if you look at her success against her competitors in the field, it’s hard to see anyone stopping her over the next two weeks.

Unless, of course, she stops herself.

The last time Serena Williams won the French Open, she was only 20 years old, had only one major title to her name and had never reached the top ranking.

Jennifer Capriati was the No. 1 player in the world for the women, Lleyton Hewitt was the No. 1 player in the world for the men and Victoria Azarenka was only 12 years old. Roger Federer had never won a slam, Rafael Nadal had never played a professional tennis match and no other current members of the WTA Top 10 were in the Top 200.

A lot has happened in the last 11 years. While she's racked up five Wimbledon titles, five Australian Open titles, three more U.S. Open trophies and 139 weeks at No. 1, she's yet to even get back to the French Open final. She's seemingly had more heartbreaks at this event than all the other tournaments in her career combined. 

While the Legend of Serena has grown, the distance between herself and a follow-up Roland Garros victory has widened.

It all started at the 1998 French Open, when she was only 16 years old. It was her second Grand Slam appearance, and she found herself up a set and 5-2 against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the fourth round before losing in three sets.

Recently, while talking to Sports Illustrated blogger Courtney Nguyen, Serena revealed that she’s still haunted by that match: If you could go back and replay any match in your career, which would it be?

Williams: The 1998 French Open fourth round. I played Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and I was [two points from winning the match twice]. And I tell you, I would have won the French Open that year [if she had beaten Sanchez Vicario]. I know I would have won the French Open that year. Unfortunately, she won.

By the time she won the title in 2002, it seemed she had moved past her personal hang-ups about the event, but her 2003 semifinal against Justine Henin brought them all rushing back.

Serena came into the match on a 33-match win streak at Slams and was up 4-2 in the third and serving at 30-0 when Henin infamously put up her hand in the middle of Serena's service motion. The umpire didn't see Henin put her hand up, and she didn't admit to it (until a 2011 interview, seen below). Serena didn't get a chance to serve again and lost her concentration.  

Serena proceeded to lose the match in three sets, and she hasn't been back to the semifinals of the French Open since. 

In 2004, she lost a tight three-set match to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals. Henin beat her in the 2007 quarterfinals. In 2008, she was shockingly upset by Katarina Srebotnik in the third round.

In 2009, she came into the French Open ranked No. 2 and on an 18-match winning streak at Grand Slams. She lost a 3-1 lead in the third set to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals. In 2010, she had a match point before falling to Sam Stosur in three sets, also in the quarterfinals. 

Nothing comes easily for Serena Williams at the French Open.

There are ghosts haunting her at every corner, and she's just hesitant enough with her footwork on clay to let them creep into her game. Sure, the strength of her forehand and serve are diminished on clay, but perhaps even more importantly, her mental strength is diminished as well. She's not invincible here. The other players know it, and so does she.

But once again, she is the heavy favorite going into this tournament, and rightly so. She's ranked No. 1 in the world. She's on a 25-match win streak, the longest of her career.

She has absolutely dominant records over her main rivals in this event, with a 13-2 record against Maria Sharapova (3-0 on clay), a 13-2 record against Victoria Azarenka (2-0 on clay), a 5-0 record against Agnieszka Radwanska (1-0 on clay) and a 5-0 record on Sara Errani (2-0 on clay).

She can beat everyone in the draw. She just has to let herself.

After her first-round match on Sunday, Serena raised her hands in relief, knowing she'd gotten past the first hurdle—the French crowd on Philippe-Chatrier Court, the one that has been so petulant to her in the past, cheered politely. She charmed them immensely by giving her entire on-court post-match interview in French.

She has an apartment in Paris. She loves the city, the culture and the people. She considers it home. Now she just has to make the courts of Roland Garros her home, too.

She's the only one standing in her way.