The return of dominant Serena Williams

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Serena delighted with Rome win (0:43)

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9:14 PM ET

Peter Bodo

Tennis

The plot leading to the second Grand Slam of 2016 has been filled with unexpected twists and turns, but the ending is a familiar one: Can anyone beat Serena Williams at the French Open?
The question lingers like smoke over the rest week before the start at Roland Garros. The fire: Williams’ 11th-hour triumph at the Italian Open on Sunday. Until she bamboozled her fellow countrywoman Madison Keys in the final in Rome, 7-6 (5), 6-3, the jury was out on Williams and her chances at the coming major.
Williams had gone nine months without a title. She took a long break after the US Open, but the reboot wasn’t entirely successful. Her emotions were still raw and volatile. Williams’ record in 2016 before Rome was 13-3 in just three tournaments. She showed up in a Beyonce music video instead of the Madrid Premier Mandatory tournament (she pulled out with the flu), leaving all of her French Open preparations for the last minute.

At the Italian Open on Sunday, Serena Williams won her first title since last August. Fabio Averna/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Not good omens.
Then came the Italian Open. She didn’t lose a set, and now the WTA landscape suddenly looks different — but also more familiar. Like old times.
Keys was asked in her news conference after the Rome final what she thought of Williams’ form going into the French Open.
“I don’t think she has anything to worry about,” she replied.
Williams’ version: “Well, I feel really good about it. After my first few rounds, I started feeling better. I’m feeling pretty fit. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
This is bad news for the fleet of WTA contenders. It’s a large, somewhat rag-tag group because only No. 6 Victoria Azarenka has showed an appetite for domination. Williams’ other rivals juggle opportunities as if they were hot potatoes, dropping them as quickly as they get their fingers on them. There is much pecking, no clear pecking order.
Maria Sharapova played second fiddle to Williams effectively after Azarenka was laid low by injury in 2014. But now Sharapova is getting her hits mostly on social media. She posts beach and fashionista pictures as she awaits her hearing following a failed drug test.
Angelique Kerber’s lifelong dream came true when she won a Grand Slam title in Australia in February. The accomplishment complicated Williams’ life, but not as much as Kerber’s. She’s ranked No. 2 and had a nice win at home in Germany at Stuttgart a few weeks ago. But Kerber took first-round losses in Madrid and Rome since then and hasn’t come to grips with the pressure that comes with her newfound status.
As for Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza and No. 5 Simona Halep, the winner at a depleted Madrid event last week, and Petra Kvitova, we really don’t know what to expect. Absent an effective Williams, any of them could win the French Open — or fall in the first round.