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Convention would have it that to succeed on the gruelling clay courts of Roland Garros requires playing a stack of matches and having miles in your legs.

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But then Serena Williams has never been one to take too much notice of convention.

The 23-times grand slam singles champion will be back at Roland Garros having missed last year’s event as she prepared to have her first child, Alexis Olympia, who was born in September.

Before that, a host of familiar (and slightly less familar) names will attempt to qualify for the tournament.

It’s no easy feat. Former world number five Eugenie Bouchard has already failed in her quest, retiring hurt against Dalila Jakupovic on Wednesday.

Jay Clarke is the only Brit left in the hunt, with the 19-year-old set to next face temperamental Aussie Bernard Tomic. Compatriots Liam Broady and Katie Boulter have already fallen.

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CAN SERENA DO IT?

Following a tumultuous birth, when she needed emergency surgery after suffering a blood clot, just being back on the court is a remarkable achievement.

When Williams returned to the Tour in March, playing in Indian Wells and Miami, she looked short of fitness and form, going out in the third round and first round respectively.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admits she returned too soon but the pair have been working hard together ever since.

At 36, Williams is chasing the record of 24 grand slam title wins, held by Australia’s Margaret Court, and if she lines up at Roland Garros, she will be fitter, fresh and dangerous.

“Serena will play the French Open to win it,” said Eurosport pundit Mouratoglou.

“Can she do it? Serena can achieve anything — after being her coach for six years, I’m even more sure of that statement.”
It was the arrival of Mouratoglou as Williams’ coach in 2012 that sparked the most successful period of her career.

Having been knocked out of the French Open in the first round, Williams turned to the Frenchman to revive her fortunes; they have won 10 grand slam titles together since.

With organisers sticking strictly to the world rankings, Williams, currently ranked 453, will be unseeded in Paris, which means she could face any of the highest-ranked players in the first or second round.

But even with her lack of match practice, if anyone can hit the ground running it is Williams, the winner there in 2002, 2013 and 2015.

“I hear when she was down in Palm Beach she was training very hard with her physical trainer (Mackie Shilstone),” seven-times French Open champion Chris Evert, an analyst for broadcaster ESPN, told Reuters.

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“At the end of the day she knows how to play tennis. It’s more about fitness, getting the cardio up, the first step.

“We know she will have the fire, the fight and the heart and the drive but you don’t know about seven matches in a row to keep that level up. That’s what it’s going to take.”
Jim Courier, who twice won the title at Roland Garros, also believes Serena can defy logic.

“One can never count Serena out if she’s in a draw,” said Courier.

“She lacks match play and will be vulnerable in the early rounds as she seeks form and confidence. If she does reach the second week she will be hard to stop.”
Last weekend, Williams was a guest at the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

But she was quickly back on court at Roland Garros the following day, smashing groundstrokes with Mouratoglou.

“She obviously comes back to win and the wait has been long, so she will probably start Roland Garros with a mix of stress because she will want to do well and excitement because playing those events is the reason why she made such huge efforts to come back. ”
No one will want to see their name alongside that of the 23-times grand slam champion in Thursday’s draw.

From May 21st to June 10th, watch the French Open LIVE on Eurosport Player
Eurosport Player gives fans live access to all the action LIVE through 16 Bonus Channels. Eurosport will broadcast LIVE coverage of the French Open, from the qualifying round which takes place 21-25, right through to the men’s final on 10 June.

Last season, Spanish champion Rafael Nadal won the tournament for the tenth time after an intense fight with Stan Wawrinka. On the women side, Jelena Ostapenko won the title for the first time in her career.

Roland Garros rolled out the red carpet and rhythmic reception for Jelena Ostapenko at today’s draw.

Entering the draw ceremony wearing regal blue alongside reigning men’s champion Rafael Nadal, Ostapenko was beaming as a live band seranaded the returning champion with the Stevie Wonder classic “Isn’t She Lovely.”

The former ball room dancer will need to pirouette around potholes and swing through a stacked draw if she’s to sustain her groove in Paris.

Here’s our Top Winners & Losers in the 2018 Roland Garros draw.

Since nothing comes easy on clay, let’s start with the draw duds.

Top Draw Losers

Jelena Ostapenko faces a danger draw with a possible meeting with Victoria Azarenka in the second round followed by a potential fourth-round clash with Venus Williams.

The 20-year-old Latvian blew up the traditional tactical blue-print and blasted her way into history in the 2017 final. In a brilliant display of first-strike tennis, Ostapenko punished 54 winners roaring through 12 of the final 16 games hitting Simona Halep right off the court, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, to capture her first career championship in the Roland Garros final.

Can she show the same fearless shotmaking under pressure as she did fighting back from a set down four different times to rule Paris last year? We’ll find out.

Two-time Grand Slam champions Garbiñe Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova receive a rude Roland Garros welcome squaring off against each other in a blockbuster opener.

The third-ranked Spaniard clearly possesses the flat strikes and power to displace anyone on dirt—she’s beaten Serena Williams twice in Paris—but since Muguruza’s run to the 2016 Roland Garros title, which included a straight-sets sweept of Kuznetsova, she’s only won three titles with none coming on clay.

Muguruza has won five of six meetings with Kuznetsova, but they’ve split two career clay-court clashes. Neither woman has found her footing on dirt this season: Muguruza is 2-3 on clay and Kuznetsova has posted a 3-4 clay-court record after her return from off-season wrist surgery.

Maria Sharapova fans may be binging on Sugarpova to cope with the two-time champion’s unsavory draw that could include 2017 semifinalist Karolina Pliskova in the third round and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena in the fourth round.

After an inspired run to the Rome semifinals that saw her spike her ranking to No. 29, Sharapova arrives in Paris facing the draw equivalent of a severe sugar crash.

The good news for Sharapova: She earned much-needed match player and showed spirited grit knocking off four Top 40 players—Ashleigh Barty, Dominika Cibulkova, Daria Gavrilova and Ostapenko—and was within a few points of toppling world No. 1 Simona Halep in the semfinals.

The bad news for Sharapova: She could be looking at a grude match rematch with Serena Williams in the round of 16 in what would be their first meeting since Sharapova revealed the root of their rift in her book Unstoppable: My Life So Far, claiming she saw Williams break down in tears following the 2004 Wimbledon and suggesting Williams has never forgiven her for seeing raw vulnerability exposed.

Three-time champion Serena owns an apartment in Paris but didn’t exactly receive the welcome mat at Roland Garros. The tournament opted against seeding the all-time Open Era Grand Slam leader. Williams opens with a possibly tricky test against left-handed Kristyna Pliskova in round one and with a potential meeting with twin sister and WTA ace leader Karolina Pliskova looming later.

The bigger question is can new mom Serena shake off the rust of inactivity and improve on the sluggish movement she showed in Indian Wells and Miami nine months after giving birth.

French Fed Cup hero Kristina Mladenovic will have home fans behind her—and she’ll need them in her opener against Andrea Petkovic.

The artist formerly known as Petkorazzi is 4-0 lifetime vs. Mladenovic, winning both of their clay-court encounters including a three-set win en route to the 2014 French Open semifinals. The 30-year-old Petkovic has dropped to No. 107 and recently played ITF events, however she’s still dangerous and is a former clay-court champion.

If Mladenovic advances, she could face world No. 1 Simona Halep in round three. Two-time quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi hasn’t played Paris in two years but could provide stiff resistance to 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina in the first round.

Top Draw Winners

Two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina should enjoy the view from her perch in the third quarter of the draw.

Svitolina faces Rabat runner-up Ajla Tomljanovic in round one and should, at minimum, match her career-best quarterfinal results from last year.

The question is: Can Svitolina erase the ghosts of her 2017 meltdown when Simona Halep denied a match point in the tie break roaring back to win 11 of the last 12 games stunning Svitolina, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0, to surge into her second Roland Garros semifinal in the last three years.

No. 8-seeded Petra Kvitova made an emotional return to Paris last spring after suffering a horrific stabbing attack in a home invasion and could make an extended visit this year.

“With heart, anything is possible,” Kvitova said.

With some hot, dry weather, Kvitova could do damage. The two-time Wimbledon winner resides in the bottom quarter of the draw along with Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Kvitova, who opens against Veronica Cepede Royg, rides an 11-match winning streak into Paris, including back-to-back titles in Prague and Madrid.

The 2012 semifinalist is capable of a deep run.

World No. 1 Simona Halep looked flat falling in the Rome final, but a week of rest and a solid opening week should lift her spirits. The two-time French Open finalist opens against flat-hitting American Alison Riske and is a better mover than potential third-round opponent Kristina Mladenovic.