HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer
The very day that Serena Williams won this year’s Australian Open for her 19th Grand Slam championship, she was thinking ahead.
“I would love,” Williams said then, “to get to 22.”
Her next chance to move closer to that goal — equaling Steffi Graf’s Open era record for major singles titles — comes at the French Open, which begins Sunday.
Another trophy at Roland Garros would allow the 33-year-old Williams to become the third player in the history of tennis to reach a total of 20 majors. Margaret Smith Court holds the all-time record of 24.
First things first, though.
It takes seven consecutive match victories to take home a Grand Slam title. In two of Williams’ past three appearances at the French Open, she didn’t even manage to win two in a row.
Last year, in wind and rain, Williams absorbed the most lopsided loss of her Grand Slam career — 6-2, 6-2 in the second round against 35th-ranked Garbine Muguruza. And in 2012, Williams’ unbeaten streak of 46-match first-round wins at majors ended with a three-set loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano.
Then again, in between those early exits, Williams won the 2013 championship.
“You just don’t know with her,” 18-time major title winner Chris Evert said in a telephone interview. “She lost to players that I don’t want to say she had no right losing to, but she had bad losses for her. … She can’t win because of her power on clay. She has to be patient. She has to be a little bit of a grinder out there. And she can.”
Here are other things to know about the French Open:
SHARAPOVA AND CO.: Who other than the No. 1-ranked Williams has a shot at the title? A good place to start would be No. 2 Maria Sharapova, who has appeared in the past three finals, winning twice and losing to Williams once. “I have respect for Maria, if she’s on top of her game,” Evert said. Other possible contenders: No. 3 Simona Halep, who pushed Sharapova to three sets in last year’s title match, and No. 8 Carla Suarez Navarro, never past the quarterfinals at a major but terrific on clay and 17-4 in three-set matches this year.
NADAL’S SLUMP: A year ago, Rafael Nadal lost clay-court quarterfinals at Monte Carlo (to David Ferrer) and at Barcelona (to Nicolas Almagro), and plenty of folks figured he had lost his way on his favorite surface. Then he showed up in Paris and complained about a bad back. And then, just like in nine of the past 10 years, he won the French Open. So maybe he’ll turn things around in time at Roland Garros again, even though he comes in this year with his most losses on clay since 2003. He’s ranked No. 7, out of the top five for the first time in a decade.
DJOKOVIC’S STREAK: No. 1 Novak Djokovic has won 22 consecutive matches heading into the only major tournament he hasn’t won. If he finally breaks through in Paris — where six of his 10 losses have come against Nadal, including in the 2012 and 2014 finals — Djokovic would become the eighth man with a career Grand Slam.
YOUNG BLOOD: There’s a new generation on the way in the men’s game, and the four teenagers ranked in the ATP top 100 are the most in eight years. Keep an eye on Croatia’s 18-year-old Borna Coric and Australia’s 19-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis. Also of note: Another Australian, 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios, who beat Nadal at Wimbledon last year and Federer at Madrid Open this month. And then there’s Frances Tiafoe, a 17-year-old from Maryland who earned a U.S. Tennis Association wild-card berth. The last time an American that age played in the men’s main draw in Paris was 1989, when Michael Chang won the title (after beating Pete Sampras in the second round).
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