PARIS – Is the world No. 1 – winner of 21 Grand Slam singles title and arguably the best women’s tennis player to ever play the game – the underdog in the French Open final?
In a way, yes.
Serena Williams has dug, scraped and fought her way back into the championship match here on Saturday – far from her best – and is set to take on No. 4 seed Garbiñe Muguruza, a big-hitting Spaniard who has picked up steam this fortnight in her quest for a maiden major trophy.
When the two clash on Court Philippe Chatrier Saturday for the Roland Garros title, it’s the 34-year-old Williams who will have to play catch up.
“If she plays like this, she’s not going to win,” Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou said Friday after another shaky Williams win. “But I don’t expect her to play that level tomorrow. The mental approach has to change. She has to show it.”
That’s the book on Williams: She rises to the occasion, time after time. She did it last year, winning five three-set matches en route to the French Open crown while suffering from the flu. She has done it this week, triumphing in three sets over Yulia Putintseva on Thursday in the quarterfinals and saving a pair of set points against Kiki Bertens on Friday. She’s a convincing 21-5 in major finals in her career.
They will start preparing the red carpet in New York City soon for Serena Williams.
She won the Wimbledon tennis title Saturday, her sixth and her 21st Grand Slam title, by beating a young Spaniard, Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-4, 6-4.
That meant that Williams had completed her second “Serena Slam” — four major titles in a row — and also meant she would be gunning for a rare calendar-year Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in New York, starting in late August.
Only one other player in the modern era of tennis has achieved that, Steffi Graf in 1988, when she also won an Olympic gold medal. Mo Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970 are the only women who have previously won calendar-year Grand Slams.
Williams, typically, started slowly against the 20-year-old, 20th-ranked Muguruza, falling behind in the first set, 1-3 and 2-4. But she roared back for a 6-4 victory and kept rolling to a 5-2 lead in the second set.
Usually, at this point on the women’s tour against the No. 1 and always dominant Williams, the other player packs it in.
Not Muguruza. To the delight of the packed Centre Court crowd of 15,000, she broke Williams’ serve twice to get back on serve, but then yielded at love in her 4-5 service game.