You bet against the GOAT at your own peril. But rarely, if ever, has Serena Williams entered a major tennis tournament with longer odds and more doubt about her ability to reel off seven straight wins than she does at the 2021 French Open, which begins Sunday in Paris.
Williams, four months shy of her 40th birthday, remains in pursuit of her 24th Grand Slam title, which would tie the all-time record compiled by Margaret Court under much easier circumstances. And though her status as the sport’s greatest is secure in many experts’ eyes regardless, she’s also chasing her first major title since she took leave from the tour in 2017 to give birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia.
Just look at the conspiracy of factors that makes it a long shot — Serena is listed at 25-1 odds by BetMGM, behind eight other players including … wait for it … Spain’s Paula Badosa — Williams is hoisting the Suzanne-Lenglen cup in two-plus weeks’ time:
The French Open is her worst major
Three career Grand Slam titles on the red clay, for mere mortals, is the achievement of several lifetimes; for Williams, it’s indicative of her worst surface and a blip on her ledger compared to her success on the faster courts of Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian. She’s 66-13 all-time at the French, and has reached the semifinal round just five times in 18 tries — in the three tournaments of her mom phase, she’s failed to even reach the quarterfinals.
Williams has played just three competitive matches since dropping an Australian Open semifinal to Naomi Osaka in mid-February. She’s lost two of them — inauspicious straight-sets defeats to Nadia Podoroska and Katerina Siniakova in the early rounds of clay-court warmup tournaments in Rome and Parma, respectively.
“I think she lost because she was not ready,” Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told Sky Sports. “I don’t know, but maybe it was not a good idea to go and play in Parma after losing in Rome because her match in Rome showed a lot of things that still needed to be worked on to be able to compete at the highest level. … I’m not worried in general because if she does the job she will be ready. It’s just about doing the job.”
She got a super-tough draw
The path for Williams, the No. 7 seed in this year’s tournament, was revealed in Thursday’s draw — and it didn’t go well. After Sunday’s first-round date with Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, potential clashes include: three-time major winner Angelique Kerber in the third round, two-time major winner and 2020 French Open semifinalist Petra Kvitova in the fourth round, world No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals, latter-day arch-rival and superstar Naomi Osaka in the semifinals and top seed Ash Barty or defending champion Iga Swiatek in the final.