Serena continues hot streak with win at French Open

June 8, 2013 05:21 PM
Serena Williams was named the AP Female Athlete of the Year for 2013.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
 
PARIS
-- Serena Williams was on a tear coming into Roland Garros, and she left the French Open much the same way. On Saturday, she defeated Maria Sharapova in the final, 6-4, 6-4, to earn her second French Open title and her first since 2002.
 
However, while approaching her match against the world No. 2, the now 16-time Grand Slam champion wasn’t as secure as she looked when booming down three aces in the final game to secure the victory. In fact, when Serena walked up the stairs to Court Philippe Chatrier, she looked like she had seen a  ghost.
 
"I was so nervous today. I’m usually not this nervous before a match," she told a small group of U.S. reporters. "[I was] not myself this match at all. But I’m glad I got through this one because I’ve played nervous before, and I’ve lost a few times. I was really happy to win this one."

The victory did not come easy for Williams, as Sharapova pushed her throughout, playing perhaps her best match against the world No. 1 since the Russian was unable to convert match points in the semifinals of the 2005 Australian Open.
 
Serena came into the contest having won 12 straight matches against the woman who stunned her at 2004 Wimbledon, but she had sensed that Sharapova would try and change things up this time around. And that is what the defending champion did, mixing up her serves, going hard at Serena’s forehand, dashing around for balls and trying to push her off the baseline.

But that wasn't enough, as Serena proved herself to be a better big-point player once again. She overcame an early deficit, broke Sharapova to 5-4 in the first set and coolly served out the set. She opened the second set with a break and sat on it, firing one huge serve after another -- like no other woman in the world can.

Sharapova, who is not easy to impress, was nonetheless quite impressed by Williams’ serving display on red clay, saying that Serena serves faster than Roland Garros male finalist David Ferrer.
 
"Obviously, it's a little bit of confidence, but we know she's going to be able to hit a big serve," Sharapova said. "I mean, I think if I was built like Serena, I hope I'd be able to hit a big serve like that, too."

Early on in Paris, Serena wouldn’t admit to having anxiety coming into the tournament, but after she raised her second Roland Garros trophy, she did say that she had her worries early on.
 
And why not? Williams had taken some very tough emotional losses in Paris since 2002, including to Justine Henin, Jennifer Capriati, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur. In 2012, she suffered perhaps her most shocking defeat ever at a major, when she was stunned in the first round of Roland Garros by Virginie Razzano, the first time she had gone down in the opening round at a Grand Slam tournament.
 
"I think [I had anxiety] in the back of my head," Serena said. "I mean, I played great last year. I won the same tournaments. But this year, I was like, I just want to win one match here. If I can just win one match, if I can get a good first round, good second round, if I could get through these, I felt like I could do a lot better. So I think that was really, really important for me, to just be relaxed.

"I actually got a little bit tight in my first round [against Anna Tatishvili], even though I won 0 and 1. I just got tight, and I told my mom afterwards, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m too old for this. I’ve got to find a solution.’ We talked about it, and I got over it."
 
Williams didn't cruise through the rest of the tournament, as Kuznetsova played her very tough in the quarterfinals, but she faced down the Russian in three sets, crushed Sara Errani in the semis and then didn’t allow Sharapova to turn the tables on their rivalry.
 
Serena sais she puts the 2013 Roland Garros title right up there with some of her other major trophies. She may actually keep her hardware in Paris, where she owns an apartment and spends a lot of time now. She delivered her winner’s speech in French and mentioned that one of the reasons why she first decided to learn the language was because she heard U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier deliver his Roland Garros winner's speech in French back in the early 1990s.
 
"I remember I said I want to give my speech in French," she said. "That was something that really stood out for me and changed my life."
 
With the title, Williams became only one of four players in the Open Era to win more than one Grand Slam title at every major, joining Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, all of whom are Hall of Famers and rank among the greatest ever to play the game.
 
Serena is now just two Grand Slam titles away from tying Evert and Navratilova’s singles title wins at the majors at 18. Graf has 22, and leader Margaret Court has 24. With the way that Serena has played over the past year, if she keeps playing until the 2016 Rio Olympics, which is her stated goal, she has an outside shot at catching Court, which would be a remarkable feat for someone who won her first Slam -- at the US Open -- in 1999 and who was out a full year, from July 2010 to July 2011, due to injury and illness.
 
But for now, Serena is not thinking long term, but short term. In two weeks time, she will attempt to defend her crown at the All- England Club.
 
"Wimbledon," she said of her goal. "I’m already thinking about it. That’s absolutely next for me. Hundred percent."
 
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