(The Root) — She was away from the game for nearly a year, sidelined by a foot injury and then scaring us to death when a blood clot was discovered in one of her lungs. But slowly and steadily, Serena Williams has climbed back up. As the French Open begins Sunday, she’s ranked No. 5 in the world and a favorite to win the tournament.
Williams has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles in her storied career but has raised the French Open trophy on the red clay at Roland Garros Stadium just once, in 2002. Clay clearly has been Williams’ least-preferred surface, with only four of her 41 career titles won on such courts. But it’s a different story this year, since no one has a better record on clay — 17-0 — and no one has a better record overall (27-2).
“I absolutely love clay,” Williams said earlier this month after winning in Madrid. “I played on hard court until I was 11, then, until I turned 16, I only played on clay courts. It’s really a myth about me not liking clay.”
There was a bit of concern last week when she withdrew from the semifinals of the Italian Open, citing a back injury. But she said that the move was precautionary, partially because she wasn’t 100 percent and partially because she didn’t want to overtax herself in the comeback from such a long absence.
Despite the 30-year-old’s dominance since turning pro in 1995, Williams’ dedication to the sport has been questioned at times. She never hid the fact that other interests exist, apparently including rap, and she sometimes failed to show or exert herself at lesser tournaments. She seems to enjoy her celebrity perhaps more than her tennis, though she recently said she’s done with dating for the next decade.
But the French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament that Williams hasn’t won at least twice. That fact, plus being at the top of her game right now, appears to be fueling her resurgence.
“I think in general I have much better commitment in tennis,” she told Agence-France Presse. “I just am really 100 percent. I love being on the court now. I love every moment. This is what I live for. After going through everything that I went through, I really kind of appreciate every moment more, especially being out on the court.”
That’s good news for her fans and tennis fans in general. As for the other French Open contenders — particularly No. 2 Maria Sharapova, looking to complete her career Grand Slam — their quests are that much tougher with Williams’ return.
“It would be really intense and really crazy,” Williams said about perhaps claiming her second French Open a decade after her first. “I mean, obviously there are several people here that want to win. I think I’m one of those people.”