Here comes a fresh French Open with a compelling figure and an overriding question of whether she can weather the thickets, overcome her past, irrigate her drought.
The figure would be Serena Williams and, I know, how odd. Not only does monitoring Williams round-to-round-to-round through a Grand Slam often seem unnecessary, but no one should sit around mulling what Serena Williams lacks.
If anybody does sit around mulling what Serena Williams lacks, that person is probably either somebody desperately in need of added distraction, a sportswriter tabulating numbers or, of course, Serena Williams.
Williams lacks multiple French titles, and there's no big boo-hoo for that, but if she did add a second French crown to her sterling spring 2013, it would take a towering career and ladle on meaning.
French Open titles in 2002 and 2013, at her toughest Slam, would emblemize her gaping span and go more decoratively with her five Australian Opens, five Wimbledons and four U.S. Opens.
Further, it would captivate because it would reveal Williams fighting up yet another hill.
We usually don't get to see Williams fighting up hills; we usually watch other women try to fight up Williams-crafted hills.
Roland Garros has spent 10 years lending her the rare company of durable impediment.
You may or may not remember an enchanting June Saturday in 2002 when the Nets were in New Jersey (and playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals) and the horse War Emblem was on the Queens-Long Island border trying to win the Triple Crown (but not doing so) and, as that American day began, the American sisters Venus and Serena Williams graced the only French Open singles final for either, a factoid sort of hard to believe.
Amid 101 combined unforced errors born mainly of ferocious offense, Serena Williams steeled out a 7-5, 6-3 win which might sound normal but wasn't. In pre-match Venus Williams led their Grand Slam tallies by 4-1. Venus Williams was the higher seed, at No. 2 to Serena Williams' No. 3. (No. 1 was -- yep -- defending champion Jennifer Capriati.) In a touching turn afterward, Venus Williams got a camera and joined the media throng photographing Serena Williams, the kid sister who had come through rather than the giant figure of the pantheon roaring through the game. With Serena Williams still 20 and having won only the 1999 U.S. Open among Slams to that point, she would deploy the phrase "one-hit wonder" and state how she'd wished to avoid becoming one.
Now she's a 15-hit wonder, but way back then the ancient, decrepit phrase "Serena Slam" hadn't even turned up, that French Open uncorking her run of four straight giants.
"I've always thought I could play on anything," she would say post-victory, "but it was time I showed it here."
It might be time again, you could say without snootiness. Her tally through the 10 French Opens since: one semifinal, four quarterfinals, one third round, one first round, three absences. Even with the beautiful eccentricity of the clay-court major, its demand for greater patience, its unfriendliness to otherworldly pace, that ledger is a mite mysterious.
She had that semifinal in 2003 when Justine Henin cheated amid the third set, raising her hand before Williams served to indicate non-readiness, then pretending she had not raised her hand after Williams faulted into the net. Nobody thought that decided the match, but Williams went from a 4-2, 30-love lead to a 7-5, third-set defeat.
From there, a loss to Capriati, another to Henin (decisive), one to Katarina Srebotnik (odd), one to Svetlana Kuznetsova (long tussle versus eventual champion), one to Sam Stosur (8-6 in the third), and the momentous first-round loss last year against Virginie Razzano or, as Razzano turns up in most references, No. 111 Virginie Razzano.
By now, of course, that match seems valuable, given Williams' 67-3 record since, her two Grand Slam titles since, her 36-2 record in 2013, her 24-match win streak, her dominance of Maria Sharapova on Madrid clay (6-1, 6-4), her dominance of Victoria Azarenka on Rome clay (6-1, 6-3).
If all of that run-up seemed more-of-the-same, or just another incarnation in a remarkable career, or proof that age 31 isn't as old as it used to be, well, it's about to hit a fascinating juncture.
It's about to play Paris, where Williams finds both the familiarity of her apartment in the 7th Arrondissement and the thorns of the tennis complex in the 16th. The tennis requests peerless focus while Williams brings along a focus possibly peerless in her experience. The Williams form and the Paris questions conspire to make this one different, with the eye locked squarely on her schedule, her draw and her chance to add one momentous trophy to her monumental trophies.