Doha, Qatar – Serena Williams' bid to reclaim the world No 1 ranking here this week may be boosted by a French connection which has been helping her recover from an upsetting start to the year.
Williams seemed unusually alert and fresh in Doha after arriving in the Gulf on Saturday night until it emerged she had crossed only the two time zones from Paris and not the eight from her Florida home.
This suggests that some or most of her preparation may have been done at Patrick Mouratoglou's academy in the French capital.
There her emotional life as well as her fitness should have experienced extra nurturing – probably much needed after a calamitous Australian Open where she ended with a quarter-final defeat and two injuries.
Mouratoglou appears to have been important for Williams for many months now, and not just it would appear for his professional coaching abilities.
They met at the French Open in Paris in May, after which Williams said, according to Mouratoglou: “I want to win Wimbledon, I want to start now.”
“That's simple, that's how it started,” he said.
However, since then they sometimes been photographed together in non-coaching situations.
Mouratoglou was snapped with his hand on her posterior during a boat ride in Mauritius. She was caught on camera with her hand in his back pocket while they were shopping in Paris.
They were described as if “they're sure playing doubles” when shown strolling together at Valbonne in France. Then were snapped while snuggling together on a shopping trip in Milan.
But is Mouratoglou, who has an international reputation as a coach, actually helping her tennis?
He was certainly in situ throughout the outstanding four-month sequence which saw her win Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open, and the WTA Championships one after the other. That was impressive even by her standards.
So what is the biggest thing Mouratoglou brings to the table? That question is too tough to answer, Williams insists, perhaps wisely.
“I think my game is suited to doing well, really, but I think Patrick is a good addition. It would be interesting to see which way it would have gone (without him),” she said in Melbourne last month.
“Honestly, it is so difficult to tell right now. There's so much that he's brought, but what is the most thing that he's brought? I don't know.
“I'm just really calm, but I've been working on being calm and more consistent, so I think those are some things, and confidence as well.”
Mouratoglou also sounded as if the future were uncertain when he wrote during the off-season that “if Victoria (Azarenka) manages to find a solution to her problems against Serena, she could certainly dominate the circuit for many years to come”.
He wrote of Williams: “What she has achieved over the last six months (of 2012) certainly argues in her favour. She has shown an exceptional level of play during that period.
“But that does not give any guarantees for the future, as other players are progressing. Serena must also improve ... she must make the necessary effort to achieve these goals.”
Has she actually done that during the off season? Three weeks after the Australian Open, where her fitness was in a mess, Williams still looked and sounded uncertain about it in Doha.
The next few days sould offer new insights into where she stands. – Sapa-AFP