May 23, 2018 / 7:41 AM / a month ago

Returning Serena Williams ready to deny Paris convention

LONDON (Reuters) - Convention would have it that to succeed on the grueling clay courts of Roland Garros requires playing a stack of matches and having miles in your legs.

FILE PHOTO: Britain Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, England - 9/7/16 USA's Serena Williams in action against Germany's Angelique Kerber during the womens singles final REUTERS/Toby Melville Picture Supplied by Action Images/File Photo

But then Serena Williams has never been one to take too much notice of convention.

The 23-times grand slam singles champion will be back at Roland Garros having missed last year’s event as she prepared to have her first child, Alexis Olympia, who was born in September.

Following a tumultuous birth, when she needed emergency surgery after suffering a blood clot, just being back on the court is a remarkable achievement.

When she returned to the Tour in March, playing in Indian Wells and Miami, she looked short of fitness and form, going out in the third round and first round respectively.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admits she returned too soon but the pair have been working hard together ever since.

At 36, Williams is chasing the record of 24 grand slam title wins, held by Australia’s Margaret Court, and if she lines up at Roland Garros, she will be fitter, fresh and dangerous.

FILE PHOTO: Britain Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon, England - 9/7/16 USA's Serena Williams celebrates winning her womens singles final match against Germany's Angelique Kerber with the trophy REUTERS/Toby Melville Picture Supplied by Action Images/File Photo

“Serena will play the French Open to win it,” Mouratoglou told the WTA website recently.

“Can she do it? Serena can achieve anything — after being her coach for six years, I’m even more sure of that statement.”

It was the arrival of Mouratoglou as Williams’ coach in 2012 that sparked the most successful period of her career.

Having been knocked out of the French Open in the first round, Williams turned to the Frenchman to revive her fortunes; they have won 10 grand slam titles together since.

With organizers sticking strictly to the world rankings, Williams, currently ranked 453, will be unseeded in Paris, which means she could face any of the highest-ranked players in the first or second round.

But even with her lack of match practice, if anyone can hit the ground running it is Williams, the winner there in 2002, 2013 and 2015.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - French Open Womens Singles Semifinal match - Roland Garros - Serena Williams of the U.S. vs Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands - Paris, France - 03/06/16 Williams reutrns the ball. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes Picture Supplied by Action Images/File Photo

“I hear when she was down in Palm Beach she was training very hard with her physical trainer (Mackie Shilstone),” seven-times French Open champion Chris Evert, an analyst for broadcaster ESPN, told Reuters.

“At the end of the day she knows how to play tennis. It’s more about fitness, getting the cardio up, the first step.

“We know she will have the fire, the fight and the heart and the drive but you don’t know about seven matches in a row to keep that level up. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Jim Courier, who twice won the title at Roland Garros, also believes Serena can defy logic.

“One can never count Serena out if she’s in a draw,” the American, who will be part of ITV’s French Open coverage, said.

“She lacks match play and will be vulnerable in the early rounds as she seeks form and confidence. If she does reach the second week she will be hard to stop.”

Last weekend, Williams was a guest at the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

But she was quickly back on court at Roland Garros the following day, smashing groundstrokes with Mouratoglou.

“She obviously comes back to win and the wait has been long, so she will probably start Roland Garros with a mix of stress because she will want to do well and excitement because playing those events is the reason why she made such huge efforts to come back,” he said.

No one will want to see their name alongside that of the 23-times grand slam champion in Thursday’s draw.

Additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing Toby Davis

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