By Richard Pagliaro
Serena Williams is a convincing closer, but concedes finding her finishing touch was a challenge in her comeback.
The 39-year-old Williams fell to 2020 Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Podoroska 7-6(6), 7-5 in her Rome opener today.
It was just the second clay-court match Williams has played in a year and left her with a few immediate takeaways.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion said regaining her rhythm, refining her movement and consistently executing the kill shot after taking charge of points are primary challenges she faces returning to red clay.
“Just filling out the game, finding the rhythm. Even sliding and confidence with that, with movement, and just not wanting to break my ankle when I moved,” Williams said. “That’s always like a little struggle in the first two matches, and then I’m raring to go.
“Yeah, that’s kind of where I was struggling a little bit, and just final shots. Like, I had a lot of opportunities to win, like, final shots and just kind of missing those. Overall, it was good for me to play such a clay court player on clay today, but it’s a little frustrating. But it’s all right. It is what it is.”
Roland Garros postponed one week to a May 30th start time giving Williams time to accept a wild card into a clay tune-up tournament if she chooses.
“I just gotta get there. Maybe I do need a few more matches, so I’m going to try to figure that out with my coach and my team and see what we would like to do,” Williams said. “But, yeah, I just feel like it’s different. I have been training for months, but it feels definitely different on clay to make that last adjustment.”
The three-time French Open champion owns an apartment in Paris and confirmed her commitment to continue doing the dirty work ahead of her Roland Garros return.
“I actually love clay. I love playing on clay,” Williams said. “So I don’t think it’s a negative, but, you know, I think if anything it helps to keep that rhythm of clay.
“Unfortunately I only played one match last year on clay, and I haven’t been playing a lot on clay in the last two years. So, yeah, it will be good to get back and keep working on it.”
Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d’Italia