Reduced to tears after her semifinal loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne in last year's French Open, Serena Williams not only saw her streak of 33 consecutive Grand Slam matches snapped but also suffered the vitriol of French fans, who booed her off the court in defeat.
Sunday at Roland Garros, Williams made clear that she wasn't interested in revisiting the most upsetting day of her professional career or speculating on how she'll be received when she takes the court Tuesday for her first-round match against Iveta Benesova from the Czech Republic.
"I haven't thought about it," said Williams, the No. 2 seed in the French Open, which begins Monday. "It doesn't matter to me because the only thing I'm focusing on, pretty much, is the ball. I'm not trying to win over any crowd. I'm just here to play tennis."
It has been nearly a year since Williams last played in a Grand Slam event, bowing out of the pro tour following her victory at Wimbledon in July. She underwent knee surgery Aug. 1 and joined her ailing sister Venus (abdominal strain) on the sidelines.
The women's game went on without the Williamses, with Henin-Hardenne and fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters seizing the sisters' customary spots atop the rankings.
Serena was just as quick to prove that her life went on without tennis. She rarely watched matches on TV, and when she did, she muted the sound to keep from hearing commentators debate the struggles she'd face when she returned. As her rivals tuned up for the U.S. Open, she chatted up David Letterman on late-night TV and appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards. Bitten by the acting bug, she filmed a movie with Queen Latifah. And she continued developing her clothing line.
Sunday at Roland Garros, it was evident Williams still has a foot in two worlds -- the glamorous one of Hollywood and the gritty one of clay-court tennis.
She wore a cropped orange jacket that revealed an impossibly taut midriff; snug, low-slung jeans; and a pink Chanel bag over her shoulder. And she fielded questions with confidence, charm and more than a few contradictions.
Yes, it was true that she had recently visited the Cannes Film Festival, where she met Tom Hanks (she has seen "Turner and Hooch" "at least 50 times") and was awestruck by the fact that he was as eager to get his picture taken with her as she was to get hers taken with him.
No, the band of diamonds on her ring finger was not an engagement ring -- clearly too modest, she implied, to suit her expectations. "If this was my engagement ring," she said, "then I would seriously need to reconsider where my life would be heading!"
Yes, she planned to see "Wimbledon," the soon-to-be released movie about a British player who wins the tournament. Informed it was a comedy, she quipped: "It must be!"
And she declined to reveal whether she intends to wear a white leather jacket in Tuesday's match, provoking already rampant speculation by describing the self-styled creation in detail: "It's laser-stitched in the back! It's a wonderful design!"
Asked whether she preferred acting to tennis, Williams insisted tennis is her first love. "I like nothing more than walking out there and just having the crowd just clap and clap and clap," she said. "It's just an unbelievable feeling for me. It just takes my breath away. I think that's why I do so well, because I always look forward to going out there and just hearing them clapping."
It's anyone's guess if she'll be greeted so warmly on Tuesday, given the French fans' wrath a year ago, when they turned on her after she preempted a line judge by calling her own ball. By the time the third-set duel with crowd favorite Henin-Hardenne came to an end, Williams was misting up with tears.
But within days, she said, she put the experience behind her.
"I had to," Williams explained, "or else I wouldn't have been able to come back and win Wimbledon. I would still be stuck in that moment. You can't stay in that moment. . . . You've got to move forward."
French Open Notes: Defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain said there's more than a 50 percent chance he'll withdraw from the tournament Monday after a painful hour of practice Sunday. Ferrero continues to be hampered by a rib injury that affects every stroke. "If I don't play, of course I will feel very sad," Ferrero said. "But it's not the right time for me." . . . Last year's No. 1 player, Andy Roddick, will try to advance beyond the first round Monday when he takes on fellow American Todd Martin. Henin-Hardenne, the defending women's champion, opens against Sandrine Testud of France.