Serena, Sharapova share French quarter
PARIS -- When the moderator at Friday's French Open draw posed questions to Serena Williams, the defending champ answered in French -- even when he asked the questions in English. And when she spoke later with the media, she also took and answered some questions in French. She even told reporters her favorite item in French bakeries: "Pain au chocolat.''
Which simply shows that Williams is ready to continue last year's dominance here, where she won all but one set -- and also gave her after-championship match interview in French to the crowd.
"I hope [my French] has improved, I really do,'' Williams said. "We'll see how it goes. Hopefully I'll get to do an after-match interview.''
Williams is certainly the favorite to do so as the No. 1 seed, not that she stayed around to watch the women's draw after helping with the men's draw Friday.
"I actually never, never, never look at it,'' she said. "I just either wait for you to tell me or someone, and then I go from there. I just take it one day at a time.''
The world's No. 1 player withdrew May 9 from the Madrid Open due to a left thigh injury, but bounced back quickly to breeze to victory in Rome last week.
"It was important for me, because I didn't get to play as much clay as I did last year,'' she said. "I had to stop in Madrid early, so I wasn't even sure if I was going to play Rome. Then to come out and win gave me a lot of confidence. I got a lot of matches in there and I needed those matches. I felt good after them.''
If Williams advances to defend her championship, there will not be a repeat of last year's final against Maria Sharapova, because the two are in the same quarter. Sharapova has been playing very well on clay. The 2012 French champ won in Stuttgart and Madrid but lost to Ana Ivanovic in the third round in Rome. It was the first time she had lost on clay to anyone other than Williams since the 2011 French Open.
"In a way, I think it gave me a few extra days maybe to rest, instead of trying to hurry up and come here and trying to get on the courts as soon as you can and get as many hours on the big courts as you might get before everybody else comes,'' Sharapova said of the early Rome exit. "So in a way it's been great to have that. I would have loved to have done well in Rome, as well. I had great preparation. I had two great tournaments and had really tough matches, easier matches. I think a lot has been thrown at me in the last few weeks in all the matches I have played, and I think that's great for coming into a big tournament like this.''
Whoever advances, the most likely opponent in that side's semifinal would be No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska. No. 8 Angelique Kerber is the only other top-10 seed in the bottom half of that side.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 5 Petra Kvitova, still trying to add a second major to her 2011 Wimbledon title, and No. 4 Simona Halep are in the third quarter. Kvitova lost to Halep in the semis in Madrid and lost early in Rome. Halep withdrew due to injury in Rome. No. 15 Sloane Stephens and No. 11 and former French champion Ivanovic also are lurking in that quarter.
Australian Open champ and No. 2 seed Li Na landed a favorable draw. One potential fourth-round opponent is No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki, who won't be seeing ex-fiancé Rory McIlroy rooting in the stands.
As we wait for the dust to settle, Williams says she has her game face on -- and her language skills ready as well.
"I like being seeded No. 1,'' Williams said. "There is definitely more pressure. But as Billie Jean King tells me, pressure is a privilege.''
If Sharapova is going to turn the tide against Serena, it would be in the marquee quarter, where Williams is at the top of the bracket and Maria at the bottom. Which is kind of how their rivalry usually plays out. Sharapova has lost her past 15 meetings with Serena, including last year's final here. But before that possible match occurs, there could be a meeting of the Williams sisters in the third round -- if 29th-seeded Venus gets that far (she lost in the first round here last year).
Quarterfinal prediction: Top seed Serena beats No. 7 Sharapova
This is a favorable path for Radwanska, whose top opponent would be No. 8 Kerber. Young Taylor Townsend makes her debut in a Grand Slam main draw against fellow American Vania King.
Quarterfinal prediction: Radwanska beats Kerber
No. 15 seed Stephens has not made much progress in the past year, and she also has changed coaches. Will Roland Garros be where she takes the next important step? We'll see. But a quarterfinal match between Kvitova and Halep is more likely. And don't count out No. 11 seed Ivanovic.
Quarterfinal prediction: No. 4 Halep beats No. 5 Kvitova
After winning the 2011 title here, Li was bounced early by Bethanie Mattek-Sands at Roland Garros last year. She has this year's Aussie title under her belt but is coming off disappointing losses in Madrid and Rome, including a defeat last week to No. 10 seed Sara Errani, who also is in this quarter. American Madison Keys drew Errani in the first round. Sixth-seeded Jelena Jankovic resides at the top of this quarter.
Quarterfinal prediction: Errani beats Li.
Semifinals: Serena Williams beats Radwanska; Halep beats Errani
Final: Williams beats Halep