Sheer power alone won't allow one to win the 2012 French Open Tennis Tournament. The red clay of Roland Garros Stadium isn't easy to conquer. It requires agility, stamina and the determination to keep the ball in play until your opponent either succumbs or loses patience due to such long rallies. The winner must impose her will on the opposition.
These are not the characteristics that have made Serena Williams the most dominant player in women's tennis over the last ten years. However, with the 2012 French Open just getting underway, the 30-year-old Williams appears to be the favorite to win her 14th Grand Slam title on a surface that has never played to her strengths. And it's not because of a weak women's field.
In fact, just the opposite is true. Women's tennis has real depth, with hungry, talented competitors emerging from all regions of the world. The last five major tournament victories have been claimed by five women from three continents: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus (2012 Australian Open); Samantha Stosur of Australia (2011 U.S. Open); Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic (2011 Wimbledon); China's Li Na (2011 French Open); and Kim Clijsters of Belgium (2011 Australian Open).
Confronted with a bevy of international challengers, Williams could have simply let the sport go, having won more than $36 million in prize money and added two Olympic gold medals to her enormous trophy case. Instead, she has chosen to recommit herself. Williams has toned up, slimmed down and risen in the world rankings to No. 5.
She's displaying more agility. She's more patient in long rallies. And she's increased her adeptness at sliding to the ball, an element of the game that seems to come naturally to European players.
As a result, Williams is 17-0 on clay this season. This record includes 6-1, 6-3 wins over the world's No. 1 and 2 players, Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, en route to the Madrid Open title earlier this month.
"I just have never seen Serena play this well on clay before," said Chris Evert, whose record 125-match winning streak on clay will probably never be broken. "Her fitness level is higher than we have seen it. She's moving better, and she wants the French Open really badly ....It is the one surface that eludes her at times, the clay. She's brilliant on the hard court and the grass, but has not had as much success on clay."
We'll see how Williams does on the red clay in Paris, but if her start to this season is any indication, she should be just fine.