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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 May 2007, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Resurgent Serena targets Paris
By Piers Newbery

Serena Williams
Serena Williams won her only French Open title in 2002
Serena Williams returns to Roland Garros for the first time in three years back to her brash, bullying best.

After several years of sporadic activity, Williams seems for the moment to have found a way to compete at the top level that is very much on her terms.

And so Paris can prepare for the crunching on-court power, and often hilarious off-court pronouncements, that inevitably follow when the younger Williams sister is in town.

"She's intimidating," world number four Jelena Jankovic told BBC Sport. "She's a strong, powerful player and she's just going to go after you."

It is a mark of her rejuvenation that Serena is heading to the French Open in such ebullient mood and confident of victory - it is not somewhere she has always felt so comfortable.

The slow clay and prickly Parisian crowd can test the calmest of nerves, and Serena's all-American brand of grunting, thumping, day-glo tennis is not always to French tastes.

After winning the title in 2002, beating her sister Venus in the final, Serena was involved in an acrimonious dispute with Justine Henin in the following year's semi-final, and the crowd sided firmly with the Belgian.

Serena's mother, Oracene, was not impressed.

I always say that when I'm playing well, no one can beat me. I'm not just saying that to sound full of myself or anything, but it's true

Serena Williams
"A lack of class and total ignorance," she said of the crowd after her daughter's defeat. "Or they just don't know tennis and the etiquette of tennis."

And a tearful Serena admitted: "I allowed the crowd to get into the match. When you allow them, it's difficult to stop them."

Nothing has changed in that regard but she is not alone in having felt the brunt of the locals' displeasure - even Rafael Nadal has suffered the catcalls in his time.

And her form this year has reminded everyone that a confident Serena is a fearsome prospect.

She began 2007 amid the widespread belief that she was past her best and had lost her focus after three years interrupted by injuries and off-court interests including acting.

Williams finished last year ranked 95 in the world, having missed both the French Open and Wimbledon during a six-month period she admitted was as much a mental break as an injury lay-off.

Typically unbowed, the 25-year-old proclaimed in January that she fully expected to regain the number one ranking and, unseeded, she swept through to the final of the Australian Open.

It was what followed that really sent shockwaves around the tennis world, however.

The 6-1 6-2 demolition of world number one Maria Sharapova in just 63 minutes was arguably the most powerful display ever seen in women's tennis.

Serena Williams and Justine Henin
Williams and Henin shared a stormy semi-final in 2003
But Williams was not about to return to the treadmill of the tour and was not seen again until Miami in March, where she saved two match points before beating Henin in the final.

A brief warm-up on the clay ended with a defeat by Patty Schnyder in the Italian Open quarter-finals but that was not about to derail her.

"Actually, not winning today is going to work well for me," she said after her Rome loss. "I'm going to get even more fit.

"I feel like everything is coming together. I'm doing everything to stay healthy. That's my goal this year, to stay healthy."

And the American is not just looking for a second title in Paris, she is already talking about Grand Slams and number one rankings.

"Hopefully I'll be playing seven rounds in Paris and winning seven matches. Then after that I'm going to the next Grand Slam.

"Only two people can do it this year, so I'm one of those two. I've been working out. During the clay-court season you have to get yourself in better shape."

And while Henin might be the bookies' favourite to win at Roland Garros for the fourth time in five years, at least one person would beg to differ.

"I always say that when I'm playing well, no one can beat me," said Serena. "I'm not just saying that to sound full of myself or anything, but it's true."



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