PARIS: Serena Williams heads into this yr’s French Open as an outsider for a Grand Slam title for presumably the primary time in 20 years, with questions surrounding her health after a poor begin to the season, whereas Naomi Osaka must rediscover her finest kind to solidify her place on the high of the ladies’s recreation with a 3rd straight main crown.
The 37-year-old Williams remains to be ready for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam triumph, together with her final victory coming on the 2017 Australian Open shortly earlier than taking a break from the game as a consequence of being pregnant.
She impressed initially after returning, however final yr twice fell simply in need of drawing stage with Margaret Court docket’s mark, shedding within the Wimbledon ultimate to Angelique Kerber earlier than her notorious meltdown en route to a different ultimate defeat by Osaka at Flushing Meadows.
Williams’ 2019 marketing campaign has not gone to plan thus far, with a collection of accidents seeing her handle simply 4 matches since her Australian Open quarter-final exit to Karolina Pliskova.
However she is assured her work off the courtroom may help her discover her finest recreation within the largest tournaments.
“I truly haven’t been in a position to practice or observe so much. I used to be out for much longer than I anticipated,” admitted the three-time French Open champion final week in Rome, earlier than pulling out of the match forward of a second-round tie with sister Venus.
“However I did every thing I might to remain match. I knew that I like the clay season and I wished to be part of it.
“It’s not about as we speak or tomorrow. For me clearly, it’s about taking part in nicely in any respect the massive moments… Clearly the Slams, and so on, simply preparing for these occasions.”
World primary Osaka has not been overly struggling since surprisingly splitting with coach Sascha Bajin within the wake of her Australian Open title.
However the Japanese star has not gained a title since, and like Williams, withdrew from the Italian Open via harm earlier than her quarter-final in opposition to Kiki Bertens.
It has nonetheless been the 21-year-old’s best-ever clay-court marketing campaign, having additionally reached the final eight in Madrid and the semi-finals in Stuttgart, and he or she feels her big-hitting recreation is now prepared for the purple filth.
“I’m sort of snug with it now. It’s identical to I randomly slip. I really feel like if I can get that underneath management, I’ll be good,” Osaka, who has by no means reached the second week in Paris, stated.
She additionally doesn’t really feel that her lack of a title since Melbourne can have a big bearing on her Roland Garros prospects.
“I can’t essentially say it’s been ups and downs as a result of if I give it some thought, it’s undoubtedly been going up,” she stated.
“Each match that I’ve performed, I’ve discovered so much. I’ve tried to take what I’ve discovered into the subsequent match. I believe I’ve carried out that nicely.”
Reigning champion Simona Halep will enter the match considerably underneath the radar with a lot of the give attention to Williams and Osaka, however the Romanian stays the world’s most constant participant on clay. he three-time French Open finalist is the bookmakers’ favorite for the title, regardless of having misplaced each her finals thus far this yr and being knocked out in her first match in Rome by Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova.
However she would be the third seed in Paris and a reputation everybody will need to keep away from within the draw.
“I can’t anticipate something as a result of to be a defending champion in Grand Slam is for (the) first time for me, so it’s one thing new,” stated Halep, who gained her maiden main title 12 months in the past in her fourth ultimate. “I might be extra relaxed. I’ll attempt to get pleasure from (it) extra.”
The ladies’s recreation stays much more open than the lads’s, with a number of different gamers holding critical hopes of lifting the trophy, like Italian Open champion and second seed Pliskova and the in-form Petra Kvitova.
Something can occur within the French capital, as proven by unheralded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko’s shock victory solely two years in the past.