Serena Williams has had an injury-filled season like Rafael Nadal, but like Rafa, she isn’t letting a rough knee stop her from the 2019 French Open at Roland Garros. Plus, we have the odds on winners for this year just below.
Welcome back to Paris, Serena Williams. The tennis world can’t wait to find out exactly how that bothersome left knee is holding up.
Williams practiced at the French Open’s redesigned main stadium on Monday — alas, Court Philippe Chatrier’s retractable roof won’t be ready until next year — and will want to get some more work in over the coming days, given how little she’s played on clay courts lately.
As in: a total of just one match on the surface since last year’s tournament at Roland Garros. Forever, it seems, Williams has been the woman to beat on the Grand Slam stage, provided she is in the field and is healthy. No one really knows this time just how ready she is.
“We just don’t know her physical status at this point,” 18-time major champion Chris Evert said in a telephone interview. “She relies so much on the physicality of her game and her movement and her sprinting and just her court coverage and setting up those big shots. Her legs are vital to her game. I don’t know if we’ve seen her 100 percent since the beginning of the year.”
With the French Open set to start Sunday, the 10th-ranked Williams has played only nine matches in 2019.
Five were at the Australian Open in January, when she lost to Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals after blowing a 5-1, 40-30 lead in the third set and four match points in all.
She retired from a match at Indian Wells, citing an illness, then withdrew from tournaments in Miami and Rome, citing her knee.
“I haven’t played a ton of matches this year. Not my choice; just by force,” Williams said after her lone clay appearance, an opening victory at the Italian Open before she pulled out ahead of what would have been a match against her older sister, Venus. “I really, really actually desperately wanted to be on the tour and to be playing, but it hasn’t been able to work out.”
The red clay used in Paris never has been the most natural surface for success for Williams, in part because it slows down her massive serves and groundstrokes that earn so many quick points on grass or hard courts.
“Remember, she hits the ball very early and very flat. So if she doesn’t have control of her body, many errors will come,” International Tennis Hall of Fame coach Nick Bollettieri said, “because she’s not going to push a ball.”
Still, it’s a testament to her greatness that Williams did manage to win three titles in France, part of her haul of 23 Grand Slam singles trophies. That’s a record in the professional era, which began in 1968, and one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time mark.
“She takes great pride in Grand Slams and her lead-in has not been up to her high standards,” Evert said. “It’s all about the knee, which has been nagging her. It is a concern, especially now on the clay, where you’ve got to move more to win a point. You use your legs, your knees, more than on any other surface.”
Here’s the thing: Williams is not just any player, of course.
After 16 months away from Grand Slam competition because of her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter in September 2017, Williams showed up in Paris a year ago and looked to be approaching the height of her powers right away. She knocked off a pair of seeded women to set up a showdown against Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, but then pulled out because of a chest muscle injury.
Williams would go on to reach the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before coming up just short of her 24th major trophy each time.
That showed what she’s still capable of doing, even without much prep work.
“Serena’s always — always — someone that you’re thinking about in the draw. Whenever she’s there, she can win any tournament that she plays,” said 14th-ranked Madison Keys, the 2017 U.S. Open runner-up and a semifinalist in Paris in 2018. “She played a handful of tournaments last year and made the finals of, what, at least two Grand Slams? So Serena’s Serena, and there’s a reason that she has so many titles to her name.”
So can Williams go to the French Open and contend, despite the lack of action? Keys’ response: “100 percent.”
Kiki Bertens, Rafeal Nadal Best Bets For 2019 Roland Garros
The year’s second tennis major, the French Open, begins on Sunday, May 26 at Roland Garros, with Romanian clay-court specialist Simona Halep favored to repeat as champion. Halep has made the French Open women’s final in three of the past five years and owned the world No. 1 ranking until Naomi Osaka seized it this January. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Halep at 4-1 in the latest 2019 French Open odds, followed by Osaka and Kiki Bertens at 8-1 and Serena Williams at 10-1. Osaka has won two straight Grand Slams. Bertens just defeated Halep on clay to take the Madrid Open, and the Dutch standout did not drop a set in the entire tournament. Williams, 37, is looking to add to her 23 Grand Slam titles. Before you make any 2019 French Open picks, you need to see what Gavin Mair has to say.
An uncanny international women’s tennis guru, Mair called Naomi Osaka winning the 2018 U.S. Open at 32-1 — part of his mind-boggling two-year streak. Over that period, $100 bettors following Mair’s tournament picks are up more than $21,000.
Now, Mair has analyzed the latest women’s French Open odds 2019 and released his three best bets to win. All are 20-1 long shots or higher, including a massive 60-1 long shot.
Mair told media outlets that Halep is an understandable favorite, but “there is a good chance she will not retain her championship. Prior to the start of this season, Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill, decided he would no longer take charge of the Romanian’s camp.
“The Australian previously coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi and he was instrumental in Halep’s rise to the top of the sport,” Mair continued. “That is not to say that Halep is a diminished player since Cahill’s departure — far from it. Halep has still had a strong season to this point, but there have been several occasions where she has failed to get over the finishing line. And I wonder if Cahill was the missing link between Halep and the Grand Slam-winning mindset.”
Instead, Mair is all over a major long shot who grew up playing on clay and enters the 2019 French Open in top form. “She has a much better chance than her French Open odds indicate,” Mair said. “She’s been one of the best players so far in 2019.”
Kiki Bertens currently now has the second best odds to win the French Open surpassing Serena Williams.
Entering the 2019 French Open sees Rafael Nadal at even odds to win the tournament.
Mona Barthel Overcomes Rain
Rain disrupted play at the Nuremberg Cup on Monday, with Mona Barthel the only player to progress on the second day.
The German defeated Paula Ormaechea 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 despite an interruption of almost four hours in the first set due to rain.
Other matches, including defending champion Johanna Larsson’s opener against two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, were all postponed to Tuesday.
No.3 seed Ajla Tomljanovic’s match against Sabine Lisicki was also put back.
Ashleigh Barty Injury
Top-seeded Ashleigh Barty withdrew from the Internationaux de Strasbourg clay-court tournament on Tuesday because of a right arm injury.
Barty was replaced in the main draw by lucky loser Diana Marcinkevica.
The eighth-ranked Australian said she would not take any risk ahead of the French Open, which starts Sunday in Paris.
“I gave it my best chance, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be playing my best tennis,” Barty said. “I’m busy the next two months and I need to look after my body now.”