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Serena set for first major since surgery


Venus, left, and Serena Williams take a break from their practice session Sunday.Venus, left, and Serena Williams take a break from their practice session Sunday.
 (Associated PressAssociated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Venus, left, and Serena Williams take a break from their practice session Sunday.Venus, left, and Serena Williams take a break from their practice session Sunday. (Associated PressAssociated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Howard Fendrich Associated Press

PARIS – En route to the French Open, Serena Williams paid a visit to the Cannes Film Festival. She enjoyed the glamour of it all, saw some movies, and even chatted with Tom Hanks about acting.

Heady stuff for a woman with a nascent screen career. Now, though, it’s time to get back to her day job, playing her first Grand Slam tournament in 10 1/2 months.

“Tennis is my first love,” Williams said Sunday, 24 hours before the start of the year’s second major championship. “I like nothing more than walking out there and just having the crowd clap and clap and clap. It’s just an unbelievable feeling for me.”

Not so a year ago at the French Open, which finished with tears for Williams after a semifinal loss to eventual champion Justine Henin-Hardenne.

It was an all-around rough day: Large segments of the crowd cheered Williams’ faults and other errors, and she charged Henin-Hardenne with “lying and fabricating” about a disputed call for time. Plus, Williams had to absorb the end of her 33-match winning streak at majors, including four straight major titles that began at the 2002 French Open.

When asked — last summer or this week — about that match, Williams says she doesn’t remember anything. A bit of acting? Perhaps.

“I had to, or else I wouldn’t have been able to come back and win Wimbledon,” she said.

Henin-Hardenne, for her part, hasn’t erased the memory. Nor should she be expected to, given that it was the prelude to her first major title.

The Belgian then added U.S. Open and Australian Open championships to her resume.

Williams dropped from No. 1 to No. 7, but because that’s due largely to a long injury absence, she’s seeded second in Paris. She had surgery on her left knee a few weeks after winning the Wimbledon final in July, and she’s played just 14 matches since, none at a major.

She’s hardly the only star who’s been sidelined, giving the French Open somewhat of an anyone-could-win feel.

“It could be a little bit dangerous, maybe, in the earlier rounds, if no one’s really sharp yet,” said 2001 champion Jennifer Capriati.

Henin-Hardenne hasn’t competed in 1 1/2 months because of a virus, Venus Williams twisted her left ankle two weeks ago, while 2001 and 2003 runner-up Kim Clijsters withdrew with a wrist injury.

It wasn’t until last week that Henin-Hardenne determined she’s healthy enough to try to defend her title, saying Sunday: “I can’t tell you I’m 100 percent, because we’ll have to see the matches. But I’m feeling much better than I was a few weeks ago.”

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