Serena Williams Wins Her 20th Major

After mounting comeback after comeback this French Open fortnight, Serena Williams was finally asked to thwart one on Saturday in the women’s final.

She did just that.

The world No. 1 let a 6-3, 4-1 lead slip against No. 13 seed Lucie Safarova, a first-time Grand Slam finalist, the American surging back to win her 20th Grand Slam title, a 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2 winner.

With the victory, Williams is just two shy of Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22. Williams becomes the first woman to win both the Australian and French Opens since Jennifer Capriati did so in 2001, and looks to equal Graf’s calendar-year Slam (1988) later this year at Wimbledon and the US Open.

Williams won five three-set matches in total this French Open, marking the first time she was forced to do so in her career.

Thursday night Williams had skipped her post-match press conference after her semifinal win, citing her fight with illness, which left her looking sullen and exasperated against Bacsinszky. Friday she didn’t practice, either, giving pre-final statements via a piece of paper handed around the press center here, citing her need for rest and fluids to fend off illness.

It is her third win in Paris, following victories in 2002 and 2013.

Saturday, meaning business, the American ranked No. 1 in the world played silent, straightforward tennis. She knocked the clay off the ball for 13 winners in the first set, ending it with a loud cry of, “Come on!” and marking the first time fans had heard much of anything from her inside Court Philippe Chatrier.

But after jumping to a 4-1 lead in the second, Williams lost her footing. Safarova began opening the court better, serving wide and belting her left-handed forehand into the court. Williams’ level dropped, as well, broken for the first time in the match and then broken again, being forced to stay in the set at 4-5, which she did with an ace up the T.

This is the tournament that has been the hardest in Williams’ otherwise sparkling career. She’s won here just twice before, losing in the first round in 2012 (her only such loss at a Grand Slam) and in the second round a year ago.

Williams found her form when she needed to, however, breaking Safarova at 5-all when she knocked a backhand return winner crosscourt, pumping her arms in triumph.

Dressed in bright orange on Saturday, however, she showed no ill (literally) effects, her game glowing as she fought against the first-time major finalist Safarova.

It had been a storybook tournament for “lefty Lucie,” a perennial top-25 player who has found her form in the last year, reaching a first career semifinal at a Grand Slam last year at Wimbledon. Here she registered wins over Maria Sharapova, the defending champion, and Ana Ivanovic, winner here in 2008.

But she was winless in eight previous tries against Williams, who moves to an astonishing 20-4 in Grand Slam finals. Their two meetings on (green) clay prior to Saturday saw her win just six games in four sets.

The comeback kid here in Paris the last two weeks, Williams is perhaps the most powerful frontrunner in women’s tennis. The world No. 1 moved to 240-7 in Grand Slam matches when winning the first set.

There are few things the American hasn’t done on the tennis court, but winning a calendar year Grand Slam is one of them. She won the “Serena Slam” between 2002 and 2003, champion at the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open, but she’s never done all four in one year.

This is a city and tournament that has felt more and more like home to Williams the last three years, following that first round exit to Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano in 2012. She brought on French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, has a Pied-à-terre in a swank part of the city and did all of her post-match interviews this year in respectable, conversational French.

She’ll go back to speaking English at Wimbledon in three weeks, given an extra week in the tennis calendar, new in 2015. Whether or not she’ll play the same, championship-caliber tennis is yet to be seen. She’s 14 matches down, 14 matches to go to that calendar Slam.

source: usatoday.com by Nick McCarvel

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