French Open: Serena now understands that 'every match counts'

2013-05-26T00:00:00Z French Open: Serena now understands that 'every match counts'The Associated Press The Associated Press
May 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PARIS - In the moments immediately following her stunningly early exit from the 2012 French Open, as her eyes welled with tears and she bemoaned how she's "been through so much in my life," Serena Williams could not possibly find anything positive to take from the experience.

How could she?

For the first - and, so far, only - time in her career, Williams lost her opening match at a Grand Slam tournament. Not merely that, but a woman many considered the favorite to leave with the title lost to a woman ranked 111th and with 20 first-round losses in 46 previous major championships. And, surely adding to her disappointment, Williams lost after having been two points from victory against France's Virginie Razzano.

When the 31-year-old American returns to Court Philippe Chatrier to play Anna Tatishvili today - the schedule for Day 1 of the 2013 French Open also features Williams' older sister, 30th-seeded Venus, and 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer - she will do so with a different understanding of what went wrong 12 months ago, and even a bit of appreciation for the disappointing result.

"Sometimes I think, 'Should I be happy that I lost last year?' You never know what can happen in your career and why things happen," said Williams, who is ranked and seeded No. 1 in singles and got a wild card Saturday to play doubles with her sister. "So it's been great for me just realizing that every match counts."

Rare is the professional athlete, no matter the sport, who readily acknowledges taking victory for granted against a supposedly inferior opponent. That, though, is what it sounded like Williams was doing.

There are, to be sure, other explanations for what she has done on the court since that defeat: good health, which her mother, Oracene Price, calls the biggest single contributor to Williams' recent success; working with a new coach, Patrick Moura-toglou; and what Williams sums up as "really just staying relaxed and calm" during matches.

But it certainly can't hurt to take every match seriously, including against players such as Tatishvili, who is 2-10 this year, 0-2 at the French Open for her career and has never been ranked better than 50th.

"You just have to always ... be ready to play," Williams said, "and expect anything."

Williams is on a 24-match winning streak, part of a 36-2 record with a tour-leading five titles this season. Since that loss to Razzano, Williams is 67-3, including championships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that boosted her career haul to 15 Grand Slam titles.

With three more, Williams would match Hall of Fame members Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert at 18.

Evert thinks Williams will eventually surpass that total and continue climbing the list that Margaret Smith Court leads with 24 major championships, followed by Steffi Graf's 22 and Helen Wills Moody's 19.

"It's still a reachable goal for her to win 22 and match Steffi," Evert said. "If she plays another two, three, four years healthy, she can break all those records."

Evert, who will analyze French Open matches on TV for ESPN2, took her assessment of Williams a step further.

"With her serve and her athleticism, her power, her court mobility - I just think when she's on, she's the greatest player we've ever seen. Ever," Evert said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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