Serena’s mission improbable

 - Ian Chadband

How the three-time Roland Garros champion's dream might turn into reality in 2018.

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

Serena Williams, unseeded but extremely dangerous, has been offered a fairly daunting path as she attempts to pull off one of the great sporting comebacks of all at Roland-Garros.

Yet Thursday’s draw could have been much worse for her.

This mighty champion’s route towards a potential fourth French Open title could easily have been a complete minefield, as she has been denied any seeding protection, but at least Williams has avoided any of the really big guns in the opening two rounds, which will doubtless be great news for said big guns.

Normally, her first-round opponent Krystina Pliskova, the world No.70, might have been delighted to learn she had drawn the world No.453. Er, then someone will have told her the bad news…

Sixteen months since she pulled off the remarkable feat of winning the Australian Open when eight weeks pregnant, Williams is now attempting another wholly unfeasible achievement by winning her first Grand Slam as a mother at her first attempt.

And if she lands a 24th Grand Slam title after having played just four matches in two tournaments all season, then it would arguably top anything she has managed before in her matchless career.

Here’s how that dream scenario might unfold for the 36-year-old after the draw was made on Thursday evening.

Round one: Kristyna Pliskova

Serena could have hoped for gentler opener than facing the big-serving southpaw from the Czech Republic, who reckons she has as good a delivery, if not better, than her twin sister Karolina's. Last year, Krystina was second on the WTA tour for the average number of aces served per match (8.27) and Serena has yet to have the chance to test her own magnificent delivery against her.

Round two: Ashleigh Barty

The fast-rising 22-year-old Australian, who will start favourite to win her opener against Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva, would also present a tricky second-round obstacle. World No.17 Barty is in fine form, having just reached her maiden WTA clay court singles semi-final in Strasbourg, but she knows exactly what she faces, having once been crushed as a 17-year-old by Williams in the Australian Open. Barty's a very different proposition now, though.

Round three: Julia Goerges

Williams would most likely meet her second seed - and another big server - in the third round. Julia Goerges, the No.11 seed, is probably the favourite to advance to this stage, although the German, who’s not taken a set off Williams in two matches, may herself have her work cut out against the dangerous Dominika Cibulkova in a tasty first-round contest.

Round four: Karolina Pliskova

If Williams advances this far, she could well find herself having to repel the tour’s queen of aces Pliskova, who would doubtless be motivated to avenge her twin sister’s first-round exit. Pliskova won their last contest in the US Open semi-final two years ago although a more compelling storyline would be if Serena ends up with another meeting with Maria Sharapova, an opponent who has always brought the best out of her. The current head-to-head score of Serena 19, Sharapova 2 is the Russian’s worst nightmare.

Quarter-final: Garbine Muguruza

Serena’s Roland-Garros nemesis could rear her head at this stage. Could we see a repeat of the 2016 final? The last time Williams was seen at Roland-Garros before the arrival of little Olympia last year, she was beaten by the Spaniard in straight sets, just as she had been a couple of years earlier in the second round. An on-song Muguruza comes alive when she sees Serena on Chatrier.

Semi-final: Simona Halep

How Williams would love this match-up if she could make the last four. The current world No.1 is not the only one who seems to have a bit of an inferiority complex whenever she faces the American. She’s got the better of Williams just once in nine attempts.

Final: Caroline Wozniacki

If the seedings go to plan, then Williams would meet Caroline Wozniacki, another player she has dominated over the years, having lost just one of 11 encounters with the Dane. Or if Elina Svitolina makes it, then it’s 4-1 to Serena. Of course, we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves here, but if anyone can achieve mission impossible, why not the woman who’s just been described as the best tennis player of all-time - by Roger Federer, no less?