Serena has learned from last year
PARIS -- Monsieur Garber. This is my first Grand Slam event that does not involve a baseball flying over an outfield fence. You are vastly more experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to all matters tennis. But with all due respect, even I am aware enough to see that Serena will add this tournament's trophy to her growing collection of all things French.
Yes, Maria Sharapova won the French Open last year, the same tournament in which Serena Williams was sent home in the first round. But that embarrassing first-round elimination is precisely what has made Serena so unbeatable. It made her take her game even more seriously, made her study opponents more closely. She has improved her movement and her balance, especially on clay. She is calmer and more focused. She has had only one brief letdown -- the second set of her quarterfinal match against Svetlana Kuznetsova -- but even that just made her more determined. Ask Sara Errani -- that is, if she has recovered the ability to speak after Thursday's semifinal beatdown.
Serena is ranked No. 1 in the world for good reason. She is on the longest winning streak of her career. She hasn't lost in 30 matches. She not only hasn't lost to Sharapova in nine years, she's dropped only three sets to her in that time. No wonder Maria seemed already defeated when she talked with reporters Friday.
You say you are willing to bet me a café crème and a croissant that Sharapova will win, which just goes to show how little confidence you really have in your pick. Even at the prices at your hotel, that is a tellingly low wager. I, however, am so confident Serena will win that I am willing to bet you a bottle of Moet Chandon Champagne that they sell for $17 a half-glass at the Roland Garros dining area.
Sharapova's recent title helps
PARIS -- OK, Monsieur Caple, I get it. I so get it.
Let's cut right to the chase: Maria Sharapova has lost 13 of 15 career matches to Serena Williams. Moreover, after winning the second and third between them, Sharapova has gone 0-for-12. And she hasn't beaten her in nearly nine years.
Yes, that's a brutal record, but it is what it is. Fair enough.
What it isn't is a guarantee that Sharapova will go down in Saturday's final. Remember, according to the WTA rankings, these are the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world. I'm enough of an optimist to believe that she can actually pull this off -- of course that might be the chronic sleep deprivation talking.
Sure, Serena flogged Sara Errani in their semifinal match, but where is the sport in that?
Did you see the way Sharapova went after Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals? Yes, she had (an amazing) 11 double faults, but she countered that with 12 aces -- including the one that locked down her fifth match point.
Neither Maria nor Serena plays particularly well on clay -- they both have one title here -- but they have learned how to deal with its awkward moments. Serena last won here 11 years ago, which is a lifetime ago for a professional athlete. Maria, on the other hand, broke through here last year and that surprising victory will clearly be in the back of her mind as she plays the final.
And, J.C., I have another little gem for you. Who do you suppose has the best record at Roland Garros among active women? No, it's not Williams, although her 45-10 record is second on the list. Sharapova, though, is percentage points better, with a mark of 43-9.
Yes, Serena, who has 15 major singles titles, will one day catch Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and their total of 18 -- it just won't happen this year. I'll wager you a café crème and a croissant that the defending champion will repeat.