PARIS -- Serena Williams was wrapping up her pre-French Open news conference when someone seated in the front row wanted to know whether she would take one question in the local language.

The tournament's defending champion gave the OK. The reporter proceeded to put forth a pair of queries, and Williams arched her eyebrows and kiddingly chastised him -- in French, of course -- for asking two. She went on to answer both, earning a thumb's up from the media member.

A year ago, Williams won over the fickle Roland Garros crowd by doing on-court interviews in French en route to the title, and the American -- who has an apartment in Paris and is coached by a Frenchman -- is clearly prepared to do more of the same this time around. What's just as impressive is her comfort level playing on the Grand Slam tournament's slow, red clay these days.

Heading into her first-round match Sunday against 138th-ranked Alize Lim, a wild-card entry from France who is making her Grand Slam singles debut, the No. 1-ranked Williams is 53-2 (a .964 winning percentage) with eight titles since 2012 on the surface known around here as "terre battue." Before that, Williams was 86-29 (.748) with three titles on clay for her career.

Williams is not entirely sure how to explain that surge, saying she didn't alter her game.

"I don't know what clicked or didn't click," she said. "I have the capability of playing on clay, so I don't know why I wasn't more consistent on clay before."

And then the 32-year-old Williams broke into a wide smile before adding: "But, hey, I guess better late than never, right?"


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One way to view her improvement on clay is simply in the context of a career renaissance that began, not coincidentally, right after a surprising exit against 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France at the 2012 French Open, the only first-round loss for Williams in 54 Grand Slam tournaments.

It was after that setback that Williams began working with Patrick Mouratoglou, who runs a tennis academy in France. She has since earned four singles trophies at the past seven majors, raising her Grand Slam total to 17, one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

"When Serena is at her best, she's going to win everything," Evert said. "It's just a matter of: Is she going to be at her best?"

Consider that the other 127 women in the field own a combined 19 Grand Slam titles. That includes seven for Williams' sister, Venus. The siblings could meet in the third round, which would be their earliest match at a major since their first -- in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open.