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Martin Rogers

Serena's opening-round performance signals uphill battle ahead

Busted Racquet

Serena Williams is swift to deflect any suggestion she is feeling the pressure at this year's French Open, insisting her only concern at the moment is that older sister Venus has the bigger bedroom in their Parisian apartment.

Even ownership of the property - Serena splashed out on the lavish residence in 2007 - hasn't secured the world No. 2 prime boudoir position. But she may soon have far more serious problems to tackle.

Williams' first-round victory over Klara Zakopalova on Tuesday snapped a three-match losing streak on clay but did little to inspire confidence in her ability to win at Roland Garros for the first time since her sole title here in 2002.

Whereas tournament favorite Dinara Safina looked imperious in her opening-round match, thrashing Anne Keothavong without losing a single game, Williams appeared short on fitness, form and ideas.

Oh how Williams, still experiencing some discomfort from the leg injury that has plagued her since March, would have loved a quick day's work.

Instead, she was caused untold headaches by Zakopalova, ranked No. 100 in the world. The Czech underdog saved eight match points before eventually going down 6-3, 6-7, 6-4.

After winning the Australian Open at the start of the year and bidding to preserve her Grand Slam dream, Williams should be the player to fear in the women's draw. Instead, she has rarely looked more vulnerable, and second-round opponent Virginia Ruano Pascual will be eyeing an upset.

If Williams does crash out early, few tears will be shed in the Roland Garros crowd.
Despite her claims about how much she loves Paris, the French capital does not necessarily reciprocate that affection.

French Open fans are notorious for being quick to turn against players, and Williams was famously on the receiving end of boos and jeers while playing Justine Henin in 2003. Anti-American feeling in France remains relatively high, and no Grand Slam will ever feel more like enemy territory for Williams.

If she can overcome the hostility of the locals, her physical concerns and her natural aversion to clay - and go on to win the tournament - it would arguably be the greatest triumph of her career.

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