ABOVE PHOTO: Serena Williams of the U.S. lifts the cup after defeating Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in their final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Saturday, June 6, 2015 in Paris. Williams won 6-3, 6-7, 6-2. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
By Howard Fendrich
PARIS — Serena Williams was only a few hours’ removed from her second major trophy of 2015, putting her halfway to a true Grand Slam, when she expressed a wish for a particular outcome in the following day’s men’s final at the French Open.
Like Williams, Novak Djokovic already had won the Australian Open in January. And like Williams, he would be appearing in the title match at Roland Garros.
“I’m kind of hoping Djokovic will win,” Williams said with a laugh Saturday night, “so I’m not the only one with this pressure on me. So, like, we’re in this together, brother.”
Alas, less than 24 hours later, the championship went to Stan Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic in four delightful sets.
So as the tennis world moves to grass courts – Wimbledon begins June 29 – Williams stands alone in a bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam.
“That’s probably the most difficult thing to do in tennis,” said Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “But it’s possible.”
With all of the hype and excitement that surrounded American Pharoah’s sweep of horse racing’s Triple Crown races – becoming the 12th to do it, and first since 1978 – it’s worth noting how rare a full-fledged tennis Grand Slam is: Only two men and three women have done it. The last man was Rod Laver in 1969. The last woman was Steffi Graf in 1988.
Williams was asked what it might mean to accomplish pretty much the only thing missing from a resume that includes 20 major singles titles, another 13 in doubles, four Olympic gold medals and nearly 250 weeks at No. 1 in the rankings.
“Oh, God. I’m not missing it,” the 33-year-old American corrected, playfully wagging a finger at the reporter who posed the question. “I’ve got a `Serena Slam,’ and I’m close to another `Serena Slam.’”
That is true.
Williams won the U.S. Open last September, meaning she has won the last three major championships.
The last woman to do that? Williams, of course. She won four consecutive majors from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open, dubbed a “Serena Slam.”
Purists insist that the only way a Grand Slam is really a Grand Slam is if the four titles are earned during the same season.
Williams was asked whether she thinks there really is a difference.
“You know what? I’m not going there. You guys – you go there,” she said. “I didn’t put that pressure on me. I’ve lost every year at Roland Garros after winning the Australian Open, and I told you then, `I’m not going there.’ And I’m keeping my word.”
The last time a woman pulled off the Australian-French double was in 2001, when Jennifer Capriati did it. But her Slam bid stalled in the Wimbledon semifinals with a three-set loss to Justine Henin.
One big difference: Capriati never had won Wimbledon – and she never did.
Williams, in contrast, already has claimed that title in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012. She was also the runner-up in 2004 and 2008.
Win No. 6 at Wimbledon, and major title No. 21 overall, and Williams would head to the U.S. Open with much at stake. At a tournament where she has won the past three championships and a half-dozen in all, she’d have a chance to complete the full-year Grand Slam and equal Graf at 22 majors, second-most behind Margaret Smith Court’s 24.
Now that would get some attention.
The gap from Roland Garros to the All England Club has been two weeks in the past, but an extra week was added this year to allow for the transition from clay to grass.
Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach for her past seven major titles, called it “a great idea.”
“To win Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back, it’s incredible. With one more week, you have more chances to do it,” he said. “They were much too close.”
There will be plenty for tennis fans to keep an eye on during the Wimbledon fortnight: No. 1 Djokovic’s and No. 2 Petra Kvitova’s title defenses; Wawrinka as a bona fide contender at every major; Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal trying to stay at the top of the game; Andy Murray as the locals’ favorite; the new generation of up-and-comers such as Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock; Maria Sharapova’s bid to get back to a final at the place she won her first major trophy; French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova’s progress.
The most compelling story line, though, is Williams.