Serena Williams and Roger Federer may be facing a French Open dilemma as they look to prepare for Wimbledon
Two of the greatest players of all time, Serena Williams and Roger Federer, have not enjoyed the greatest of clay seasons so far. However, both are set to enter the French Open, which starts on May 30, before turning their attention to the grass season and Wimbledon, where both have enjoyed plenty of success. Would it be beneficial to skip Paris and make an earlier move to grass?
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Stick or twist? Serena Williams and Roger Federer could be facing dilemmas.
The two GOATs are on the comeback trail and Wimbledon looms large. With just over a month to go until the third Grand Slam of the year, both Williams and Federer have decided the best way to prepare is to try and win some matches on clay. But the surface is not lending itself to either player so far.
They will surely have noted that both Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have opted to skip the French Open as they prepare for the summer. Murray is coming back from a groin injury, although he did play doubles at the Italian Open, while Wawrinka hasn’t played since March after having “a small procedure” on his left foot. Williams is not looking to come back from injury, but Federer is in a similar position to Murray and Wawrinka as he bids to get back to full fitness following two knee operations in the last year.
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He has been very open about his aims and his process so far. “Roland Garros is not the goal,” he said after losing in Geneva, which ended his 32-match winning streak in Switzerland. “The goal is the grass, so I still have time.”
He also said before the tournament that he thinks any match practice is better than no match practice.
"I want to play a lot of tennis," he said. "I'll hit a lot of balls and hope it will help me for the grass courts.
"I’m convinced that hitting a lot of balls - you have to really power through the ball on clay because otherwise you’re not going to have an impact on this surface - is going to be beneficial for me for the grass-court season.”
Williams has not been as open about her planning as she continues to strive for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title. It seems unlikely that she expects to win her next major in Paris considering her clay preparation and the fact she has only won there three times, the last of which was in 2015. So would she be better following Murray’s lead and focusing on the grass? Perhaps entering the Nottingham Open alongside Murray and sister Venus?
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Not going to Paris – a city she loves – would be a hard decision, and, like Federer, Williams has acknowledged the importance of court time as she looks to build up her match fitness.
“I just gotta get there,” she said after losing at the Italian Open. “Maybe I do need a few more matches…I just feel like it's different. I have been training for months, but it feels definitely different on clay to make that last adjustment.
“I feel like sometimes I'm not playing as many matches. I'm just doing a lot of training. So it's actually really good to get out and to play some matches.”
For Federer and Williams there’s the added complication this year that the French Open overlaps with the start of the grass season after being pushed back a week. The Nottingham Open and Stuttgart Open will both run alongside the second week of the Grand Slam, then there will only be two more weeks of grass preparation for Wimbledon. So if Federer or Williams reach the second week of the French Open then they will have at least a week less on grass than they could have if they chose not play in Paris.
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There’s potentially another factor at play. Might Federer and Williams lose some of their aura if they are beaten in the early rounds at the French Open? Would it not be better to head to grass, where both will be among the favourites for any tournament they enter, and start getting some wins?
“The less dominant you are, the more that aura of invincibility starts to dissipate just a tad,” Federer’s former coach Paul Annacone told the New York Times this week. “And it only needs to dissipate a tad to make a difference. The locker room antenna is up.”
Perhaps for both this will be the final time they play in Paris and they plan to bid farewell. But neither are talking like that. Federer acknowledged after his loss in Geneva that “there’s going to be a lot of conversations” with his team, but will he or Williams take the chance to skip the French Open?