PARIS – Serena Williams knew, of course, that 11 years had passed since her only French Open championship.
She also knew, of course, what happened a year ago in Paris: the only first-round Grand Slam loss of her career, to a woman ranked outside the top 100, no less.
Eager to repeat the elation of 2002, and motivated by the disappointment of 2012, Williams used terrific defense and her usual powerful hitting in Saturday’s final, closing with a crescendo of aces – three in the last game – for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over defending champion Maria Sharapova to collect a second Roland Garros title and 16th major trophy overall.
“I’m still a little bit upset about that loss last year,” the No. 1-ranked Williams said with a chuckle, her shiny new hardware an arm’s length away.
“But it’s all about, for me, how you recover,” she continued. “I think I’ve always said a champion isn’t about how much they win, but it’s about how they recover from their downs, whether it’s an injury or whether it’s a loss.”
As she spoke those last few words, her voice choked and her eyes welled with tears. There have been low moments for the 31-year-old American – none worse, perhaps, than a 10-month stretch ending in 2011 that included two foot operations and treatment for blood clots in her lungs – but she’s enjoying a high point right now.
Saturday’s victory was her 31st in a row, the longest single-season streak in 13 years. Williams is 43-2 with six titles this season.
This was the first major final between women ranked 1-2 in more than nine years – the first at Roland Garros in 18 – and yet it really was not all that close. Particularly at crunch time.
Under a cloudy sky, and amid a breeze that blew dust in both players’ eyes, Sharapova began well enough, saving four break points in the first game, then breaking in the second, prompting plenty of murmuring in the stands.
The next game went to 40-15 on Sharapova’s serve, one point from a 3-0 lead. That’s when Williams got going. A 13-stroke exchange culminated with a forehand that forced Sharapova’s backhand error and started a four-point, break-earning run for Williams.
A half-hour later Williams’ cross-court forehand winner helped her break to lead 5-4, and she served out the set.
Sharapova saved five break points in the second set’s opening game, but that merely delayed what everyone expected. Williams got the last break she would need two games later, and it was made possible by the sort of baseline scrambling she did all day. Sharapova struck a forehand down the line that would have ended the point against most opponents, but Williams got the ball back, and with an extra shot necessary, the Russian slapped a forehand into the net.
On break point, Sharapova smacked a 109 mph serve, but Williams’ strong return forced another mistake.
Now Williams merely needed to hold serve the rest of the way, and half of her 10 aces came in her last two service games.
Williams is the oldest woman to win the French Open in at least 45 years, and the oldest at any Grand Slam since Martina Navratilova was 33 at Wimbledon in 1990.
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