Sharapova ready to go distance again in Paris

Thu May 21, 2015 11:05am EDT
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PARIS (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova has hit form at the perfect moment as she eyes a defense of her French Open crown but old nemesis Serena Williams is lurking in the Parisian shadows.

Russian Sharapova, who once despised claycourt tennis but transformed herself into the 2012 and 2014 champion, arrives in the French capital fresh from winning the Italian Open in Rome.

The 28-year-old, beaten by Williams for a 16th consecutive time in the Australian Open final in January, defeated Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in the Rome final, a week after reaching the semis in Madrid and will be full of confidence.

"I'm in an especially good spot physically. I'm prepared to go the distance now, and to beat someone like Carla who loves long matches, to come through that gave me a lot of confidence," Sharapova, winner of 20 of her last 21 matches at Roland Garros, said last week.

Yet most observers make twice French Open champions Williams the favorite -- even if she has suffered niggling injuries of late and can be at her most beatable on the red dirt.

Romania's Simona Halep, last year's runner-up, will be in the mix too but few would be surprised if Williams and Sharapova served up a repeat of the 2013 final.

"I think this would be a better surface for her to play Serena," Chris Evert, a commentator for ESPN during the French Open fortnight, said in the build-up to the tournament.

"I think that it (the clay) defuses Serena's power. I think (Sharapova) likes that few extra seconds that clay allows her to set up her shots.

"She feels confident, she feels happy on the clay."   Continued...

Maria Sharapova of Russia returns the ball to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain during their final match at the Rome Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, May 17, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini