Serena philosophical in defeat

 - Sarah Edworthy

The American intends to continue to work hard on her quest for Grand Slam No.24

Serena Williams© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

It’s been hanging over her at all five Grand Slams she has entered since her return to action following the birth of her daughter in September 2017, but Serena Williams' quest for an all-time record-tying 24th Grand Slam will have to wait for Wimbledon as the No.10 seed stumbled out of the third round at Roland-Garros to 20-year-old compatriot Sofia Kenin.

After losing 6-2, 7-5 in 92 minutes to the unseeded Russian-born Kenin, who is ranked No.35 in the world, the American was fairly philosophical about her loss.

Post-match, she was asked, “If somebody told you, given the two matches that you had to pull out in the lead-up, that you would come this far [at Roland-Garros], would you have taken it or are you still very disappointed?

To which she bluntly replied: “I would have thought they were lying, because I wouldn't expect to have gotten only to the third round. I would have been, like, ‘That's not true.’

"Hey, it is what it is.”

Her reaction, naturally, contrasted sharply with that of the world No.35.

"I'm still trying to process what just happened," said Kenin, who will face eighth seed Ash Barty for a place in the quarter-finals. "I don't normally cry after a match. I had so many emotions playing on Chatrier. I have always imagined playing there and winning a match. I went there today with the mentality to go and win."

Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

This is Williams’ earliest Grand Slam defeat since Wimbledon 2014, and she was quick to praise her opponent, rather than be led into too much self-analysis. “She played really well. In that first set in particular, she hit pretty much inches from the line, and I haven't played anyone like that in a long time… I just saw a player who was playing unbelievable.”

Three times a champion here, Williams’ love affair with the Paris clay began when she first lifted the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen in 2002. She consolidated that achievement with two more titles in 2013 and 2015.

At 37, with age against her as she strives to become statistically the best performer in Grand Slam history, she had no regrets about embarking on her campaign at Roland-Garros, even with just 12 matches under her belt this year. “I am glad I came. You know, I love the city, and I love the tournament. I really wanted to be here. So I'm glad I came, at the end of the day. It's just been a really gruelling season for me.”

Serena Williams© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

She admitted she was “pretty far away” from her optimal conditioning and practice, “but that’s the optimistic part [of this result] as I haven’t been able to be on the court as much as I would have. At least I can start trying to put the time in now.”

In time for Wimbledon? “I hope so. I'm still working on it and working on getting there. So I think it will be, I think it will be enough time. We'll see, but I definitely hope so.”

Her intent to win that elusive 24th Grand Slam singles title can be gleaned from her willingness to consider playing in the grass lead-up tournaments in order to get some more match practice.

She has rarely entered the warm-up events.

“I'm definitely feeling short on matches, and just getting in the swing of things. I don't really like playing out points when I practice. So I have some time on my hands, so maybe I'll jump in and get a wildcard on one of these grass court events and see what happens.”

For some, the approach is one match at a time. For Serena Williams, it is one Slam at a time. How does she feel about her tennis journey since she became a mother?

"I don't know. It's hard to say," she said. "I feel like I have had some great runs last year, and I'm hoping to still build on that this year, and, you know, keep it going."