Paris: Serena Williams heads into this year’s French Open as an outsider for a Grand Slam title for possibly the first time in 20 years, with questions surrounding her fitness after a poor start to the season, while Naomi Osaka looks to solidify her position at the top of the women’s game with a third straight major crown.
The 37-year-old Williams is still waiting for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam triumph, with her last victory coming at the 2017 Australian Open shortly before taking a break from the sport due to pregnancy.
She impressed initially after returning, but last year twice fell just short of drawing level with Margaret Court’s mark, losing in the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber before her infamous meltdown en route to another final defeat by Osaka at Flushing Meadows.
Williams’ 2019 campaign has not gone to plan so far, with a series of injuries seeing her manage just four matches since her Australian Open quarter-final exit to Karolina Pliskova.
Williams will face Russian world number 82 Vitalia Diatchenko in the first round, with the draw also throwing up a mouthwatering potential quarter-final against Osaka.
World number one Osaka has not been overly struggling since surprisingly splitting with coach Sascha Bajin in the wake of her Australian Open title.
But the Japanese star has not won a title since, and like Williams, withdrew from the Italian Open through injury before her quarter-final against Kiki Bertens.
It has still been the 21-year-old’s best-ever clay-court campaign, having also reached the last eight in Madrid and the semi-finals in Stuttgart, and she feels her big-hitting game is now ready to dominate on all surfaces.
She also does not feel that her lack of a title since Melbourne will have a large bearing on her Roland Garros prospects ahead of her opening match against Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.
Reigning champion Simona Halep will enter the tournament somewhat under the radar with much of the focus on Williams and Osaka, but the Romanian remains the world’s most consistent player on clay....