PARIS — For a decade, the French Open has presented more problems for Serena Williams than any other Grand Slam tournament.
Her collection of 15 major championships includes five from Wimbledon, five from the Australian Open, four from the U.S. Open … and one from Roland Garros.
Since she beat her sister Venus in the 2002 French final, starting a run of four straight titles at tennis' most important events, one thing or another has prevented Williams from a second French trophy. She'd love to change that by beating defending champion Maria Sharapova in today's final.
"It would be awesome for me," Williams said. "I don't think there's anything that can describe how happy I would be."
When asked whether she now feels comfortable on the tournament's red clay courts, Williams replied: "Incidentally, I have always felt really comfortable. I just haven't done great."
Her history at the tournament is filled with tough times and earlier-than-expected departures. In 2003, her 33-match Grand Slam winning streak ended with a three-set loss to Justine Henin in a semifinal marked by Henin's gamesmanship, a mean-spirited crowd that cheered Williams' faults and Williams' postmatch tears.
In 2004, Williams lost in three sets to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals, the same round in which she bid adieu in 2007 (against Henin again), 2009 (Svetlana Kuznetsova) and 2010 (Tampa resident Sam Stosur). Williams lost in the third round in 2008 and missed the French Open in 2005, '06 and '10 with various health problems.
Last year was the most surprising defeat of all, to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano, the only first-round exit for Williams in 51 career Grand Slam appearances. Instead of sulking, Williams got right back to work, sticking around Paris — where she owns an apartment — and training at coach Patrick Moratouglou's tennis academy. Since that match, Williams is 73-3, with titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the 2012 Olympics and the WTA Championships last season, along with a tour-leading five titles in 2013. At 31, she is the oldest woman to be ranked No. 1.
"Obviously, she's in form," Sharapova said. "She's playing some of the best tennis of her career."
Now Sharapova, ranked second, will see what she can do against Williams. In 2004, Sharapova, 17 and relatively unknown, stunned Williams — and the tennis world — by winning their Wimbledon final in straight sets. Four months later, Sharapova beat Williams again, in the final of the season-ending WTA Championships.
They've played each other 12 times since, and Williams is 12-0. "Whatever I did in the past hasn't worked," Sharapova said, "so I'll have to try to do something different."