French Open: Serena Williams hot favourite for second Roland Garros title
Serena Williams launches her French Open campaign quite simply in the best form of her stellar career.
By Paul Vinnell
Last Updated: 24/05/13 6:33pm
She has won her last 23 matches, but it is not just the number of victories - it is the manner of them that is so frightening.
In winning the recent Italian Open in Rome, she lost 14 games in the entire tournament. Laura Robson and Victoria Azarenka did the best, winning four games apiece on the way to their heavy defeats.
It was much the same in Madrid, where she lost one set on the way to the title. It was the same story in Charleston - just one set conceded. She has not lost a match on clay this year or on any surface since her opening match in Dubai against Marion Bartoli back in February.
Two players can conceivably push her - the defending champion Maria Sharapova and the No 3 seed Victoria Azarenka. Both know what it takes to beat her but knowing what it takes and being able to pull it off when she is in this kind of mood is another question.
However, Williams can occasionally suffer the odd meltdown and her last big one was at Roland Garros a year ago when she lost to Virginie Razzano in the first round - her first and only opening round defeat in a Grand Slam.
There are a few threats in her quarter. Roberta Vinci, the experienced Italian and the world's leading doubles expert, loves clay and can be dangerous if she goes for broke, which she will have to.
The other is Britain's own Laura Robson. Theoretically she should lose her opener to tenth seed Caroline Wozniacki, but bet on Robson to win that, and win it quickly.
Robson's time will come but she is unlikely to get past Williams in what is a tough quarter of the draw.
Williams' semi-final opponent is supposed to be Agnieszka Radwanska, a recent victim of Robson in Madrid.
The Polish star is vulnerable on slow courts and a more likely semi-final opponent is Sara Errani - last year's shock finalist (not to us, we tipped her as a dark horse).
Azarenka will not have been pleased to draw the talented Elena Vesnina in the first round but beyond that she should waltz to the quarter-finals and a match with Li Na, with the winner theoretically facing Sharapova.
But Sharapova's quarter looks nasty. Sloane Stephens, who reached the fourth round in her Roland Garros debut last year, is a massive danger.
Petra Kvitova, the seventh seed, Sam Stosur, Dominika Cibulkova and Jelena Jankovic are all capable of emerging out of that quarter too.
Don't look beyond Serena for a winner, but if you are looking for a value bet, have a look at another American who has won just five of her last 18 matches and is generally in horrible form.
Sloane Stephens is our one to watch. Ignore her form - the American comes alive in Grand Slams. She is the player the top women do not want to have to face in the last 16 or quarters. If she gets that far and has found a bit of form, Stephens could reach the final and play Serena. There is already no love lost between America's present and future champion - that would be some final.