Will Serena Defend her Roland Garros Title?

So far, 2014 wasn’t quite the season anyone expected for Serena Williams. A fourth round loss to Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open, a first round loss to Jana Cepalova in Charleston and until Sunday, only two titles – Brisbane and Miami. This wasn’t the dominant Serena anyone was used to after her record-setting 2013 season. But, fresh off a title run in Rome, Serena, seemingly past her strained thigh, looks poised to take home her third Roland Garros trophy. That said, a handful of other women on tour are having strong clay seasons and could be ready to take on Serena.

Who can beat Serena at Roland Garros this year? (AP Photo)

Who can beat Serena at Roland Garros this year? (AP Photo)

Na Li

She’s the reignining Australian Open champion and has had more consistent results this year than ever before, winning Shenzen and making the semifinals or better in Indian Wells and Miami. On top of that, she’s no slouch on clay, winning her maiden slam on the red clay in Paris. She hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals on clay yet in 2014, but her loses have come to clay-court specialist Sara Errani and Maria Sharapova, both three-set matches.

Jelena Jankovic

If you follow me on twitter, it’s no surprise that I’d put JJ on this list as I’m a pretty huge fan. Fandom aside, JJ’s had great success on clay In the past and has been looking strong this clay season, making two semifinals, Stuttgart and Rome, and the finals of Bogota. JJ hasn’t had great success at slams for a while, but with her newfound consistency, it’s a matter of when, not if. Should she have a good run in Paris, she could have a real chance against Serena, an opponent JJ isn’t scared to face.

Maria Sharapova

From cow on ice to Claypova, Maria Sharapova has refiner her claycourt game to be one of the fiercest competitors on the surface. She already has two clay-court titles this year from Madrid and Stuttgart. She won Roland Garros in 2012, completing her career slam and backed it up by making the finals in 2013. But, she lost that match to Serena and has already lost two other matches to Serena in 2014. In fact, the last time Sharapova beat Serena was in 2004. Sharapova, always a fighter, will have to overcome whatever mental block she has, or hope that Serena’s level falls a bit. As both of those stipulations are entirely possible with these two, this could be the stage for Maria to finally break her 15-match losing streak to Serena and take home another French Open title.

As a tennis fan, it’s great to see a player like Serena just dominate the field, but the real excitement comes when that player is tested. As Serena herself said, it’s headline news when she loses, not when she wins. Could one of these women provide a headline for Serena and give the fans at Roland Garros a tournament to remember? Personally, I doubt it. I think this tournament belongs to Serena and only injury can keep her from hoisting the trophy again this year. Besides, if Serena wins, she’ll tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 majors, so she’ll still get the headline.

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