Down and out in Paris: How Serena Williams regained her mojo

Story highlights

  • Serena Williams has had a resurgence under Patrick Mouratoglou's guidance
  • American had sunk to 175 in world and lost in 2012 French Open first round
  • But with French coach's input Williams won final two grand slams last year
  • World No. 1 won 11 titles in 2013, the best return since Martina Hingis in 1997

It was, the premature obituaries proclaimed, the beginning of the end for Serena Williams.

The indomitable figurehead of women's tennis had been humiliated and cowed -- turfed out of the 2012 French Open in the first round by an unheralded and unseeded opponent.

After an injury-blighted few seasons that saw her sink to 175 in the world rankings, Williams had hit one of the biggest troughs in her career.

Given all she had achieved, it would have been easy to throw in the towel -- but even at her lowest ebb, Serena's desire to clamber back to the top was insatiable.

But she needed help and, while still in Paris, she found it in the shape of coach Patrick Mouratoglou, with whom she has been linked romantically.

It was a partnership that was to restore Williams as the preeminent female player of her generation, culminating in her most successful season at the age of 32.

Petra Kvitová interview
Petra Kvitová interview


    Petra Kvitová interview


Petra Kvitová interview 03:32
Marion Bartoli on Wimbledon triumph
Marion Bartoli on Wimbledon triumph


    Marion Bartoli on Wimbledon triumph


Marion Bartoli on Wimbledon triumph 02:58
Novak Djokovic wins the ATP World Tour final
Novak Djokovic wins the ATP World Tour final


    Novak Djokovic wins the ATP World Tour final


Novak Djokovic wins the ATP World Tour final 03:44

"What surprised me at that point was the motivation she had," Mouratoglou told CNN's Open Court show. "She really was prepared to do anything to come back to the top.

"Her motivation was at the highest point, maybe, and it was very surprising for someone who had won so much, with such a career record and at that age.

"She was struggling a bit at the time because that loss really affected her, but she was motivated to work, so that's what she did."

The results speak for themselves.

Serena has won 16 titles in 16 months, with a record of 95 victories and five defeats since teaming up with Mouratoglou.

In 2013 she won 11 titles -- including the U.S. Open, French Open and season-ending WTA Championships -- the best return in women's tennis since Martina Hingis in 1997.

Such a formidable run, which saw her pocket a cool $12.3 million in prize money this season, means she now has 17 grand slam titles to her name. Only three players in the Open era have more.

Read: Can London keep men's tennis showpiece?

But according to Mouratoglou, it was the humbling she was served in Paris that paved the way for this current, imperious streak.

"It's a failure, you have to accept it," he explained. "When you have failure you can work to be better, and you realize sometimes it's good to come back to reality.

"That's how I see my role, to help her reduce the chances to lose to the strict minimum.

"I think the chances of her losing now are much smaller than in the past. If you look at the statistics they show it, but maybe we can do better -- and it's a real goal to do better."

That insistence Williams can reach even greater heights might make her rivals wince.

There are very few players in the modern game who can match the sheer power and intensity of Williams at her peak.

Though now in her thirties, Mouratoglou rejects any suggestions she is showing any signs of slowing down, and he thinks she can improve still further.

"For sure, she's unique," he said. "I've worked with hundreds of players and many in the top 50 men and women -- for me, I've not seen anyone like her.

Read: U.S. sport's greatest black icon?

"She's a real champion. It's not about the strokes, it's about what you have inside -- and she has something really special inside. The quality of the game she is able to play at her age shows how much her game has evolved from most of the players.

"I think she improved in many ways her movement on the court; she moves much better, she moves longer also, she can play longer rallies, much longer if she needs to.

"I think she added some shots to her game that she was not using that much before. She wasn't using them because she wasn't mastering them like some other shots she masters like nobody else on tour.

Asia's tennis superstars
Asia's tennis superstars


    Asia's tennis superstars


Asia's tennis superstars 02:15
Martina Navratilova speaks out
Martina Navratilova speaks out


    Martina Navratilova speaks out


Martina Navratilova speaks out 05:00
Serena Williams' toughest challenge
Serena Williams' toughest challenge


    Serena Williams' toughest challenge


Serena Williams' toughest challenge 02:48

"I think that's a key thing -- the more options she gets on tour in her game, the more chances to win she has on the first day of the year against the player who plays the best tennis of her career.

"If she plays her type of game with more efficiency, like being maybe even more aggressive, adding some volleys, some swing volleys for example, she can give another level, which is maybe a bit frightening, but I think she can."

Mouratoglou's influence has clearly galvanized Williams, but he insists it is her desire to take responsibility that makes her so unique.

Read: Czechs retain Davis Cup

Whereas others might look in desperation to their coach for help if a match is getting away from them, Serena grits her teeth and figures it out for herself.

"She has this ability to find a solution to win, she refuses to lose and this is something really interesting," he said. "Most of the players when they are in trouble, or they are struggling, they are complaining.

"She shouldn't think, 'I have to rely on someone' to find the solution,' because she has the solution within herself. She just has to analyze, think, and dig deep and find.

"Some (players) just complain and get angry, or give up -- that's the case of many players. And some others call their coach whenever they get broken: 'Oh, I need my coach!'

"Come on, you don't need your coach every time you're broken. You have to think what you should do and look for a solution, and this is something that Serena really has in herself."

So, with Serena in supreme form, is it conceivable she could smash all records in 2014 and win all four slams -- something not done since Steffi Graf in 1988? "Yes, I think everything is possible," Mouratoglou says.

"Is it going to be easy? No, it's not going to be easy, because in terms of focus it's something really tough to achieve, and also we have to respect the quality of the other players."


    • Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.

      What does 2015 hold for Rafa?

      Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
    • LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and his long time girlfriend Kim Sears arrive at Buckingham Palace on October 17, in London, England. Murray will become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and receive his medal from the Duke of Cambridge. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

      Love game: Andy Murray to tie knot

      The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
    • Despite being forced to retire at the age of 24 due to health problems, Lacoste remained in the game and went on start the "Lacoste" brand in 1933, which specialised in tennis products. The inspiration for the company's logo came from his nickname as a player, "le crocodile."

      'Crocodile' who broke all the rules

      His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
    • Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

      Serena savors U.S. Open win

      Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
    • American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.

      The amazing life of Althea Gibson

      Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
    • Courting couple at match point

      "I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
    • LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 03: Tennis / Frauen: Wimbledon 2004, London; Finale; Siegerin Maria SHARAPOVA / RUS 03.07.04. (Photo by Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images)

      'Baby' Sharapova's big moment

      It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
    • 'Swiss Miss' follows mom's lead

      Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.