WIMBLEDON, England – It was a gentle drop shot that finally made Serena Williams raise her arms in almost-triumph Saturday in the Wimbledon championship match against Agnieszka Radwanska.
Williams had dominated most of the tournament with her percussive serve. She hit 24 aces in one match, 23 in another and a record-setting 102 in the tournament.
But that drop shot, on a break point in the seventh game of the final set, it was the winner. It allowed Williams to feel free in her final service game and it helped send her to a fifth Wimbledon championship and 14th major title with her 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 win.
The victory was the first major for the 30-year-old Williams since she won here in 2010.
Shortly after that title, Williams suffered severe cuts on both feet after stepping on glass in a Munich restaurant. She eventually needed two foot surgeries and also suffered a pulmonary embolism, a problem so severe that she ended up in a Los Angeles hospital and, she said, briefly feared for her life and for a longer time for her tennis future.
“There was a moment,” Williams said, “I remember I was on the couch and I didn’t leave for two days. I was praying like I can’t take any more. I’ve endured enough, let me be able to get through this.
“I didn’t give up … I had the blood clot, I had lung problems, I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot. I felt like I didn’t do anything to bring on that.”
After her match point, a pinpoint-accurate backhand winner that left Radwanska flat-footed and resigned, Williams dropped to the ground and then she raced to the player box, leaping up and over barriers to give and get teary embraces.
Williams still has to inject herself with blood thinners, and her mother, Oracene Price, said the health scares gave Williams perspective.
“That made her realize where her life was, really, and where she really belonged and that she really loved the game,” Price said. “You never appreciate anything until you almost lose it.”
Williams said she considered the delicate drop shot the match-winner. It gave her a two-break lead. “That way,” she said, “if I got a little nervous, I could serve it out twice.”
But she didn’t need the second chance.
In the final game, Williams had an ace and a service winner that brought her to match point.
“It’s her weapon, the serve,” said Radwanska, who was playing in her first major final. “That’s why she has won the tournament five times.”
And about that drop shot?
“She picked a great moment for that, for sure.”
Williams won the first set in 36 minutes and raced to a 3-1 lead at the start of the second.
But Radwanska became a real part of the match by breaking Williams’ serve in the eighth game and again in the final game of the set.
“She started playing excellent grass-court tennis, getting a lot of balls back, and I panicked a little bit,” Williams said. “I shouldn’t have. I usually don’t.”
The fifth Wimbledon title ties Serena with her older sister, Venus, who is struggling with her own health issues. At the 2011 U.S. Open, Venus disclosed she is suffering from an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome.
Venus, 32, said Serena’s win Saturday was inspirational to her.
“If she can do that and she was on her deathbed and I’m not dying . at the end I can do it too.”
Serena also suggested her interest in winning tennis matches was still intense. She was asked what more she might want from life and said, “Are you kidding? The U.S. Open, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon 2013.”
And then Venus went out with Serena and did do it. The unseeded sisters from Compton, Calif., won their fifth Wimbledon doubles title by upsetting sixth-seeded Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic, 7-5, 6-4. Venus hit the winning shot. An ace.
Five seems to be the luckiest number of all for the sisters.