MADRID (Reuters) - Serena Williams went from winning the Madrid Open to losing in the first round at Roland Garros last year and she is hoping history does not repeat itself after crushing Maria Sharapova to defend her title in Spain on Sunday.
Williams has one more tournament to play - the clay event in Rome - before heading to Paris for the French Open, where the 31-year-old American has just the one singles title compared with five at Wimbledon, five at the Australian Open and four at the U.S. Open.
Her 6-1 6-4 victory over Sharapova, the current French Open champion, was her 50th career title and her seventh on clay and Williams said she was hungry for a first Roland Garros crown since 2002, when she beat sister Venus in the final.
The switch back to red clay from blue in Madrid and the construction of new courts had made the conditions much more similar to Paris, which would help in her preparations, she added.
“It definitely plays more like Roland Garros, so I think that’s a plus,” Williams, who lost to China’s Li Na in the semi-finals in Rome in 2012, told a news conference.
“It’s a little slower than it was last year and plays more like a true clay court. So I think it’s great preparation.”
Williams crashed to a shock defeat to Virginie Razzano in the French Open first round last year and she said she would avoid raising her expectations too high this time.
“It is the ultimate challenge. Whether I reach it, I don’t know. I’m not going to put that pressure on myself.
“I wanted it last year and I didn’t get it. So this year I’m just looking forward to Rome and then after that Roland Garros and see what happens.
“I feel pressure every day. I think it’s a good thing a little bit because it means I’m still really hungry. If I didn’t, then I would be like, oh, it doesn’t matter.”
Williams was sidelined for 11 months between 2010 and 2011 with a right foot injury and lung problems and said the experience had made her more motivated.
“Every time I play I really relish it more, every time I get out there,” she said.
“I feel like, honestly, Serena, when are you going to get tired? I don’t know.
“I don’t know if it’s because of what I went through. I just feel like I’m so fortunate to be out there and healthy and to have an opportunity to play something, a sport, and be really good at it.”
Editing by Alison Wildey