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Williams out to break French Open record

Serena Williams

Serena Williams appears well-placed to become the first player to defend the women's singles title at the French Open since 2007.

The second grand slam of 2014 takes place in Paris through late May and early June and gets under way on Sunday, with American Williams entering the tournament in good form.

The 32-year-old won the WTA Internazionali d'Italia on Sunday, thrashing Italian Sara Errani 6-3 6-0 in the final.

Victory in Rome has proved a good omen in recent years, with Maria Sharapova and Williams – in 2012 and 2013 respectively – both going on to triumph at Roland Garros after claiming victory in the event.

Williams' only other French Open success came in 2002, a year in which she also won in the lead-up in the Italian capital.

She surprisingly bowed out of the Australian Open in the fourth round earlier this year, to Ana Ivanovic, but is determined to bounce back and is confident of doing so due to a relaxed mindset.

"Usually I'm like, 'Oh my God, I have to defend (a title).' This time I'm going to be cool with it," Williams said.

"I've been feeling that way for a while now. I think that's a good way to feel, since I have so many titles that I won last year."

Victory would give Williams 18 grand slam successes, hauling her level with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

No player has won more than Steffi Graf's 22 grand slam titles in the Open era.

Before Williams' success last year, she had not reached the last four of the tournament since 2003, which is sure to give her rivals hope.

Also encouraging for them is the fact that seven different women have won the tournament since 2007.

World number two Li Na triumphed in 2011 and the Chinese player also claimed this year's Australian Open title.

Victories on clay in both Stuttgart and Madrid will mean Sharapova heads to Paris in good spirits, with the world number eight also possessing a good record at the French Open.

Russian Sharapova – who won the 2012 tournament against Errani – also made last year's final before losing to Williams.

Serbian Ivanovic, finalist in 2007 and winner one year later, is also sure to be in contention, but world number five Victoria Azarenka misses out due to a foot injury.

Romanian Simona Halep should be quietly confident about her chances after storming to fourth in the world rankings.

The 22-year-old is comfortable on clay and made the final in Madrid earlier this month and won in Qatar in February.


Djokovic to return in Rome, Federer likely to miss

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic is expected to return from injury at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, while Roger Federer may miss.

Serbian world number two Djokovic pulled out of the Madrid Open due to a hand injury, a serious concern just weeks out from Roland Garros.

Ahead of the French Open starting May 25, Djokovic's physiotherapist Pavel Kolar said the six-time grand slam champion was expected to feature at the ATP 1000 event in Rome.

"He should be ready for Rome, that's the plan. The French Open should follow," Kolar said.

The French Open is the only grand slam Djokovic is yet to win, mainly due to Rafael Nadal's dominance on clay.

Djokovic won the title in Italy in 2011 and 2008 but every other year since 2005 has been Nadal's – including thrashing Federer in the 2013 final.

Along with two titles this year, Djokovic also reached the semi-final in Monte Carlo – his only clay-court tournament in 2014.

Federer is a certain starter for the French Open but whether he features in an event before then is unclear.

The Swiss 17-time grand slam winner welcomed a second set of twins into the world, leading to his withdrawal from the Madrid Open.

The health of his newborns and wife Mirka will decide whether Federer features in Rome – or anywhere else – ahead of Roland Garros.

With Djokovic returning from injury and Federer likely missing, the title shapes as Nadal's to lose once more.

The Spanish world number one is enjoying a strong run in Madrid after disappointing quarter-final exits in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

Czech Tomas Berdych and Spaniard David Ferrer are others doing well ahead of a trip to Italy.

But a couple of the world's top 10 will be desperate to go deep.

British world number eight Andy Murray was knocked out in the third round in Madrid, while French world number 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made a second-round exit.

Australian Open champion and world number three Stanislas Wawrinka only made the second round, but none of the trio are likely to be able to stop Nadal.

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