By Nick Zaccardi
PARIS — Serena Williams’ toughest task at Roland Garros so far? Speaking French.
She’s shown improved skills parler-ing the native language in post-match, on-court interviews, but, unlike her game at the moment, it could still use some work. Former ATP pro Cedric Pioline noted to Williams her multilingual talents after she beat Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-3 in the fourth round Sunday.
“Merci,” Williams responded. … A couple eternal seconds of dead silence. … Interview continues.
So maybe her French isn’t quite fluent, but there’s no mistaking she’s been the anti-John Isner in the French Open’s first week, dropping 10 total games in her first four matches. The first three went 51, 62 and 61 minutes, respectively. She said closing out a match is easier than trying to speak French after it ends.
The world No. 1 needed a comparatively laboring 70 minutes Sunday to reach the quarterfinals, where she will face 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
(Kuznetsova, unseeded here, was told after her fourth-round win that she was flying under the radar and responded, smiling, “I didn’t know I was flying, actually. But OK.”)
Back to Williams. She won the last 10 points against Vinci and is on a 23-set and career-high 28-match winning streak, including 20-0 on clay this year. She’s spent less time on court in four rounds than Isner did in the third round alone.
“Every match I’m really focused for the whole period of time,” she said. “I really want it, every match.”
Has Williams, who’s 71-3 since her first-round loss here last year, ever been more dominant in her first four matches of a Grand Slam? By the numbers, yes, but not in a major she’s won. She lost eight games in her first four matches of this year’s Australian Open but was upset in her fifth by Sloane Stephens.
In Williams’ 15 major titles, she swept her first four opponents eight times. Of those eight, she went the entire tournament without dropping a set four times. Of those four, she went the entire tournament without playing a tiebreaker once: the 2002 U.S. Open, where she also lost 10 games in her first four matches.
In 2002, she won every major she entered (missing the Australian Open due to an ankle injury) on her way to the Serena Slam at the following Australian Open.
She held on to the No. 1 ranking in New York with her final win over Venus, reportedly saying after, “I like it here at No. 1. I think I’ll stay here for a while.”
Williams’ best previous French Open starts came in 2002, when she lost 19 games and one set in the first four rounds en route to winning, and 2003, when she didn’t drop a set in the first four matches but lost to Justine Henin in the semifinals.