2008: One of two French Open titles Serena Williams should have won

mastermind5991 Roar Guru

By mastermind5991, mastermind5991 is a Roar Guru

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    Serena Williams' greatest tournament win came at Melbourne Park a decade ago. (AFP PHOTO/ Martin Bernetti)

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    With the year’s second major looming, one must think about Serena Williams’ chances of winning this year’s French Open.

    Fresh off her third title in Charleston, where she came from a set down to defeat Jelena Jankovic in the final, Williams will now head to the European clay court season where she will be defending the title she won in Madrid last year.

    She will also hope to defend major semi-final points in Rome, in the lead up to Roland Garros, where she was the champion in 2002.

    However, Roland Garros has historically been Serena Williams’ worst major tournament, as it is the only one in which she has never saluted more than once (she has won each of the other three majors at least four times).

    In my opinion, though, Williams should have at least two more French Open titles to her record. In this article, I will explain why she should have won the title in 2008.

    Entering Roland Garros that year, she had a 23-2 record for the season, with her only defeats coming to Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open and Dinara Safina in Berlin (Safina had temporarily paused the career of Justine Henin prior to defeating Williams, and eventually won the title there).

    She had also taken out titles in Bangalore, Miami and Charleston, and reached the quarter-finals in Rome (withdrawing before a match against Alize Cornet due to injury).

    In comparison, Ana Ivanovic, the eventual champion at Roland Garros that year, had it tough. After capturing the title at Indian Wells, she crashed out in the third round at Miami, losing to Lindsay Davenport, lost her Berlin crown when she lost in the semi-finals to Elena Dementieva and also crashed out early in Rome to qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova.

    This may have been an indicator as to who would be the favourite to capture the title in Paris. The sudden retirement of Justine Henin meant that Serena Williams was the only active woman at the time to have won Roland Garros (in 2002).

    This subsequently made her one of the sentimental favourites to claim the title in 2008.

    She landed a very easy draw in Paris, even easier than that of Ivanovic’s. Let’s compare Serena’s potential draw to Ivanovic’s, and see how it would have unfolded.

    In the early rounds, Williams landed Ashley Harkleroad in the first round, Mathilde Johansson in the second, Katarina Srebotnik in the third and Patty Schnyder in the fourth as potential opponents.

    Harkleroad was very little-known on the Tour, Johansson had the expectations of the home crowd, Srebotnik had never beaten Williams (in fact, Williams had beaten her recently in Charleston, and also defeated her in the second round of the 2001 French Open) and Schnyder hadn’t reached the quarter-finals of the French Open since 1998.

    By contrast, Ana Ivanovic received a tough opening.

    She drew Sofia Arvidsson, Lucie Safarova, Caroline Wozniacki and Nicole Vaidisova as potential opponents in her draw.

    Arvidsson was (and still is) a veteran on the WTA Tour, Safarova had reached the fourth round in 2007, knocking out Amelie Mauresmo en route, Wozniacki was to be seeded at a major for the first time and Vaidisova was still continuing to be consistent until her shock retirement in 2010.

    Williams and Ivanovic would then have met in the quarter-finals, where Williams would have beaten her very easily (she had won their only encounter up to that point in straight sets at the 2006 US Open, as a wildcard entry and while ranked 100 places lower than Ivanovic at the time).

    Williams would then have gone on to face Jelena Jankovic (or Venus Williams) in the semi-finals, then in the final one of Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina or Svetlana Kuznetsova would have been no match for her.

    She had beaten Sharapova twice at majors since losing to her in the final of Wimbledon in 2004 (including a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing in the final of the 2007 Australian Open), had also only lost once to Kuznetsova to that point, and she had also beaten Safina at the French Open in 2007.

    How easy could it all have been. The draw was ready made for Serena Williams to win her second title in Paris.

    Instead, she crashed out in the third round to Katarina Srebotnik – thus opening up Ana Ivanovic’s quarter of the draw and easing her potential path to the title.

    And if that wasn’t enough, Venus Williams also lost on the same day – Jelena Jankovic would have been her potential quarter-final opponent had she gotten that far.

    So, instead of the projected all-Williams semi-final that would have taken place, the top two Serbians (Jankovic and Ivanovic) went head-to-head for not just a place in the final, but also, the World No. 1 ranking which Maria Sharapova relinquished following her fourth round defeat to Dinara Safina.

    Ivanovic won in three sets, and subsequently met Safina in the final. The Russian had taken out Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova en route, making her a potentially dangerous opponent.

    Additionally, she had entered the tournament in hot form: she won the title in Berlin, defeating Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Dementieva along the way.

    Safina was only getting started with her career after a slow start to the year (she eventually went on to capture the Silver Medal at the Beijing Olympics and finished the year in the Top Four).

    Safina proved to be no match for Ana Ivanovic in the final, as the Serbian soon-to-be World No. 1 captured the title, in the process erasing the heartbreak of two previous failures in major finals. She had previously lost the French Open final to Justine Henin 12 months earlier, and went down to Maria Sharapova in Australia earlier in the year.

    Ivanovic probably has Katarina Srebotnik to thank for removing the biggest obstacle from her draw – the only remaining champion, Serena Williams, in the third round. If it wasn’t for Srebotnik, then Ivanovic would not be the player that she is now.

    But in the years ever since, her form took a nose-dive, and just two years later she sunk to No. 65 in the world. Her French Open title seemed like a world away as her confidence hit rock bottom and climbing back up the rankings appeared an impossibility.

    However, a patch of 21 wins from her last 27 matches, during which she picked up two titles, would see her rocket back up the rankings and she has not dropped out of the seeding zone for any major tournament since.

    It would not be until last year’s US Open that she would reach another major quarter-final (though that was partly due to a draw that opened up, as the other seeds in her section: Caroline Wozniacki, Francesca Schiavone and Monica Niculescu, all crashed out in the first round), where she bowed out to Serena Williams, who eventually captured the title.

    That was a massive achievement for the Serbian, given she had endured a horror lead-up to the tournament, including being wiped out (in other words, beaten 6-0, 6-0) by Roberta Vinci in Montreal, suffering a foot injury which limited her movement in that match and not being rated a chance of progressing far at the US Open, where she had previously lost in the fourth round three times.

    Ivanovic also has horrible memories from a heartbreaking first round loss to Kateryna Bondarenko in 2009 – it was that loss that triggered her 11-month form slump and subsequent fall down the rankings.

    But today, she is back in the Top 20 and although she may be struggling at the moment, her best tennis is still yet to come. However, I still don’t take back that article I wrote in January after her loss to Agnieszka Radwanska at the Australian Open – because I measure players based on how far they go in tournaments, not just a few matches.

    This year, she has mixed some of her best tennis with some of her worst tennis – at Monterrey, her most recent tournament, she scored a wipeout victory over Marta Sirotnika in the first round, only to lose to Timea Babos in three sets the very next round – this is how inconsistent she can be.

    On the other hand, since that fateful French Open in 2008, Williams reclaimed the World No. 1 ranking, captured five more major titles and dominated at will before she accidentally stepped on some broken glass at a Berlin restaurant following her Wimbledon title in 2010, forcing her out of the game for 12 months.

    Williams then suffered her own misfortune, dropping to No. 175 in the world by July 2011, before a miraculous comeback, which included reaching the final of the US Open and beating Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki en route – saw her finish the year ranked World No. 12.

    Her stunning comeback set the precedent for a year of domination last year, in which she captured titles at Wimbledon, the US Open and the year-end championships, and to cap it all off – the Olympic gold medal. However, she lost in the first round of the French Open – it was the first time she had ever lost in the first round of a major, and it was the third of just four losses that she suffered in 2012.

    This year, she has captured titles in Brisbane, Miami, and Charleston, as well as reclaimed the World No. 1 ranking from Victoria Azarenka.

    Given her hot start to this year, it’s phenomenal for someone who is aged 31 and it shows that Serena will not slow down anytime soon.

    Hopefully her most recent title in Charleston won’t be a prelude to another Roland Garros disaster, after 2008 and 2012 (ironically, those other two years in which she won Charleston, were the same two years in which she would fail to get past the fourth round in Paris since winning her only title in 2002).

    In my next article, I will explain why she should have also won the 2012 French Open, and later on I will preview Novak Djokovic’s chances of completing a Career Grand Slam in Paris this year, against the very likely possibility of Rafael Nadal saluting at his favourite tournament for an eighth time.

    NOTE: Serena Williams missed the French Open in 2005, 2006 and 2011 due to injuries.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • April 12th 2013 @ 6:49am
      Johnno said | April 12th 2013 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      Wow good analysis mastermind5991. Serena Williams is cursed at the French open only winning once when she should won more. A bit like Bjorn Borg never winning the Australian open when it was on grass at Kooyong.
      John Mcenroe was cursed at rolland Garros, he lead in 1984 lendl 2 sets to 1, and 4-2 in the fourth and he blew it.
      Mcenroe is 1 year older only than Lendl, yet Lendl had never won a grand slam . Mcenroe breezed through the 1st 2 sets in little over and hour.
      Then the match, kinda like serena williams twists at Rolland Garros took strange twists. Mcenroe was distracted by a camera man , his frail temper , getting the better of him, Lendl won the 3rd but Mcenroe has the momentum int he 4rth 4-2 up he blew it, and in the 5th he had break points int he 4 game of the set , blew that and lost 7-5 in the 5th.

      Lendl went upwards in his career and life, and Mcenroe was never the same player again after that match. His life and tennis career began a gradual decline after 1984 which he had a great year, but also by the end of the year he was exhausted,. Wimbledon in 1984 a few weeks after roland garros loss to lendl was the last grand slam he won.

      So Rolland Garros loss to Lendl really damaged Mcenroe. It also has damaged Serena Williams along the way too.

      • Roar Guru

        April 12th 2013 @ 8:38am
        mastermind5991 said | April 12th 2013 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        Not to mention, Serena Williams has not reached the final four in Paris since 2003. On that occasion, she accused Justine Henin-Hardenne of “lying” or something (I don’t know the full story behind this) in what was a tense semi-final.

        Taking my analysis into account, I feel Ana Ivanovic was very lucky to win in 2008. She had entered the tournament in poor form, compared to Serena who came in with a seventeen-match winning streak which included three titles and solid clay tournaments. But as soon as Serena departed in the third round, and Ivanovic wiped out Petra Cetkovska in the Round of 16, the Serb became the instant favourite, but still had Jelena Jankovic in the semis to deal with.

      • April 17th 2013 @ 9:20am
        clipper said | April 17th 2013 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        Johnno – Bjorn Borg wasn’t cursed at the Australian Open – he just never showed up, apart from 1974 when he lost in the third round. This was quite common back then – Connors only showed up a couple of times and usually the field was a lot weaker than the other slams.

        • April 17th 2013 @ 9:48am
          Johnno said | April 17th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

          clipper good point, I had heard about that but didn’t realise how casual it was. Also Mcenroe never won the OZ open, maybe for the same reason who knows. And a lot of OZ open in Mcenroe’s time, were on kooyong grass.

    • April 12th 2013 @ 8:45am
      Frankie Hughes said | April 12th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      There’s no such thing as Serena deserved to win x amount of French Open titles.

      She’s only won one due to her only deserving one.

      She’s an average player on clay.

      She’s reached the championship match at Roland Garros once, merely suggesting it was a fluke…

      • Roar Guru

        April 12th 2013 @ 10:19am
        mastermind5991 said | April 12th 2013 @ 10:19am | ! Report

        It was not a fluke. That title in 2002 kick-started her most dominant spell ever, which also included winning Wimbledon and the US Open, and then capturing the Australian Open in 2003 to become the last person, male or female as of 2013, to hold all four Majors simultaneously. And she was 20/21 at the time.

        It’s something that even Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic can’t achieve.

        • April 12th 2013 @ 6:48pm
          Frankie Hughes said | April 12th 2013 @ 6:48pm | ! Report

          Serena came into the big time when ladies tennis was at a transitional stage.

          She picked off a few cheap Majors against her willing sister, who seemed to be happy to let her win.

          Serena has reached 1 French Open final. If that’s not a fluke then nothing will be.

          For example Federer could be deemed unlucky to have won just 1 Roland Garros, after all he got hammered by Nadal on 5 other occasions. But I’d say Federer was lucky to win his only Roland Garros. As Nadal was already out. Otherwise it’s safe to say Federer would never have won Roland Garros.

          • Roar Guru

            April 12th 2013 @ 7:58pm
            mastermind5991 said | April 12th 2013 @ 7:58pm | ! Report

            Had Nadal saluted at Roland Garros in 2009, not only would Roger Federer not have won the French Open, but Nadal would have become the first man since Jim Courier in 1992 to win the Australian and French Opens in the same year.

            Two of the most famous Nadal misfortunes at Majors (against Rosol at Wimbledon last year and against Soderling at the French Open in 2009) changed history forever. Federer won the French Open in 2009, and last year Andy Murray became the first British man since Bunny Austin to reach the final at Wimbledon.

            Novak Djokovic will be hoping something similar happens this year, but I strongly doubt it as the Spaniard looks to return to his best form after so long out.

            • April 12th 2013 @ 8:58pm
              Frankie Hughes said | April 12th 2013 @ 8:58pm | ! Report

              Murray reaching the Wimbledon final doesn’t really interest me.

              His luck finally played in, yet against an ageing Federer still got a beating and a half.

              2009 French Open should have an * next to Federer’s name…

              After all on the 5 occasions Federer met Nadal in Roland Garros, he got battered.

              • April 17th 2013 @ 4:39pm
                clipper said | April 17th 2013 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

                Your definition of battered must be different to mine. I would consider losing in straight sets easily as a battering – which only occurred once with the Fed Nadal finals at RG. The rest were 4 setters with a few 7/6 7/5 sets – with a 6/1 set to Fed if I remember correctly.

    • April 12th 2013 @ 10:24am
      Johnno said | April 12th 2013 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      To push forward for this Serena William’s has serious claims to be the most dominate tennis player men’s or women’s in the last 40 years 1970-2012. She is more dominate than what Pete Sampras, or Navratalova or Graff were. I think she probably is no 1 dominate player int he last 40 years. More so than Billy Jean-king too.

      Novak may challenge that opinion as he is looking good but he still has to do a bit more yet.

      Serena Williams has also won 1 Olympic singles gold medal 2012
      And 3 Olympic games doubles gold medals (2000,2008,2012)
      And 13 Doubles grand slam titles
      And 2 mixed doubles grand slam titles

      People often forget how dominate Serena williams has been in doubles too.

      Only Martina Navratalova in the last 40 years has better statistics as an all round player.

    • April 12th 2013 @ 10:23pm
      nickoldschool said | April 12th 2013 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

      The Parisian public doesnt like the Williams sisters and i dont see that changing. They would have to change first.

      • April 13th 2013 @ 1:55am
        Nate said | April 13th 2013 @ 1:55am | ! Report

        The Parisian public doesn’t like anyone who’s not Parisian!

    • April 12th 2013 @ 11:43pm
      marie said | April 12th 2013 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

      Serena shouldn’t have won because she lost…That’s just it. It’s like saying Justine Henin should have won her all the Majors finals she was in in 2007 – but reality, she didn’t. Besides, Serena has only ever reached one final (which she won) and one semi-final on Roland Garros, it’s not her surface, and that’s ok – but to say that she should’ve won when she crashes out early in a Majors is just nonsensical and totally wishful thinking.

    • April 15th 2013 @ 9:10pm
      Caleb said | April 15th 2013 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

      I think that Serena is dominate regardless of winning one RG. Even in that final in 02 that could have went either way especially against Venus. In 2012, she showed that she could sweep major tournaments if she chose (Charleston and Madrid) but it was unfortunate that in the first round. Then she decided to sweep the Olympics, Wimbledon, US Open, and YEC that takes dominance to blow past Sharapova or Azarenka. People don’t understand that GS matter more than the average WTA title and that’s where mindset is. Now that she is number one, what does she really have to lose at this point? Answer that question lol even if she loses that ranking she could be a dominant #20 and still do the same thing. A key reminder that in the 07 Aussie Open she was well under-ranked and she swept that GS and made Maria question her game in the final, that’s dominant

      • Roar Guru

        April 16th 2013 @ 1:24pm
        mastermind5991 said | April 16th 2013 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

        Not only that, but in that same year Serena won the Australian Open ranked #81 (which, in my opinion is the greatest of her Major victories), Venus won Wimbledon ranked World No. 31 (seeded #23). It comes to show that anything is possible.

        Serena seems to suffer a curse which prevents her from doing well at Roland Garros. She hasn’t reached the semi-finals there since 2003, and it is at that Major where she suffers the most disappointing of losses:
        * 2012 first round loss vs. Virginie Razzano. And this came ON THE BACK OF A SOLID CLAY SEASON.
        * 2008 third round loss vs. Katarina Srebotnik. Again, Serena had a solid clay season and a great build-up compared to Ana Ivanovic that year, who came into the tournament having crashed out early in two of her last three tournaments.
        * 2003 semi-final loss vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne: The most controversial of them all, where Serena accused Henin-Hardenne of lying at a crucial moment in the match.

        But it appears that first round loss last year was a major turning point, and we have seen the results almost 12 months on. I’ll be very surprised if she suffers yet another disaster in Paris this year.

        • April 17th 2013 @ 2:30am
          Caleb said | April 17th 2013 @ 2:30am | ! Report

          I just hopes she gets herself together mentally before the French Open because last year was not hot lol! I don’t think her clay court is the strongest but I do feel it’s better than most I think she can win another before she decides to retire. What people don’t understand is that RG is the toughest surface to win a GS whether it’s ATP or WTA , but for some reason if she doesn’t win this year she will at least make it to R16 or probably a QF again but if she wins it all then I don’t what to say other than she is mentally tough again

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