Celebrating Serena: Paris welcomes back Williams

 - Alex Sharp

The 23-time Grand Slam champion returns to Roland-Garros after missing the last four majors.

Roland-Garros 2018, Serena Williams, entraînement, training©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

It’s official: Serena Williams is back.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion jetted in from the Royal Wedding in Windsor, UK, last weekend to return to the Parisian clay in pursuit of a fourth Roland-Garros title.

We haven’t witnessed the 36-year-old in major action since her astonishing 2017 Australian Open triumph, when we later learned she was pregnant with daughter, Olympia.

Roger Federer hailed Williams’ achievements in a Wall Street Journal interview this week: “It’s an amazing story and then she became one of the greatest, if not the greatest tennis player of all time.”

Quite the praise from the Swiss maestro, and Serena’s peers have had plenty to say in Paris, welcoming back the 2002, 2013 and 2015 Roland-Garros champion.

Garbine Muguruza prevailed againstWilliams in the 2016 French Open final and could meet the American in the quarter-finals during this year's tournament

“You know, it's so far. If that happens, it will be the best match for quarter-finals,” claimed the Spaniard with a smile. “You know, it's always good to play her, to see her in the draw, and that's it.

“I think she's the best in history, so it's always good when she's around as a great competitor. I think Serena Williams is Serena. You never have to underestimate if she's not competing a lot,” continued Muguruza, expecting Serena’s level to be high. “I think she has the talent and the confidence. So it's always a tough opponent.”

France's leading light Caroline Garcia was in the stands as a young spectator when Serena was in the midst of her trophy-laden career.

“You know, I came a couple of times, my parents bring me to watch matches. It was special to be on these courts watching,” reflected the world No.7. “I think the first time we came we had some good matches and Serena was already there. It's kind of surprising but she's still here and competing.”

Serena Williams practice entraînement Roland-Garros 2018©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is close friends with Williams away from the confines of a tennis court and thinks her arrival gives the whole draw an extra motivation to perform in Paris.

“I think it's great. I think it's so nice to have her back. I think it's always great to have the best players play, and it raises your level,” claimed the No.2 seed. “You have to play your best level, and I think having someone like Serena back, it's keeping us all on our toes and we have to keep improving all the time. I have no doubt that she'll be playing very well.”

Another French favourite, Kristina Mladenovic, is also sure Serena is raring to go for another tilt at the title.

“She's the best player, in my opinion. She's a great champion. If not an icon, a legend in tennis. It's a great thing that she's here, that she's still here in the world of tennis,” said last year's quarter-finalist. “If she's here today, it means that she feels ready and good shape and fit. We'll see what happens. I haven't seen her play lately, but it's a good thing that she's here indeed.”

World No.1 Simona Halep is adamant that Williams’ unrivalled experience is a huge advantage for the inher comeback to the major arena.

“Of course it's great for tennis that she's back. Maybe she needs a little bit more time to get again used to the tournaments and everyday playing. In my opinion, I said many times, that she's able to come back and to win again tournaments,” explained the top seed. “She knows how to handle the pressure, how to handle all the situations. She's there for so many years. So I think she will come back, and she will be good again.

“I feel that now everyone is here, it feels that the tournament is complete and everyone is here just to show that tennis is really nice and also that everyone can win it, and these girls are coming back - Vika (Azarenka), Serena, with their kids, which is amazing. It makes it a little bit different and also special.”

Williams opens her Roland Garros campaign up against world No.70 Kristyna Pliskova.