French Open: Serena Williams takes game to a superior level
World No 1's power, touch and tenacity sees off defending champion and wraps up a 16th Grand Slam title
In the excitement of the moment, just after Serena Williams had beaten Maria Sharapova 6-4 6-4 in yesterday's French Open final, a minor faux pas was understandable. Williams has made admirable efforts to speak French in her post-match interviews on court here, but as she tried – presumably – to say that the experience of winning here for the first time for 11 years had been unbelievable, the wrong words came out. "Je suis incroyable [I am unbelievable]," the American told the crowd in Philippe Chatrier Court.
Whatever she had intended to say, nobody could have argued with that comment. At the age of 31, Williams is the oldest woman in the Open era to win at Roland Garros. With 16 Grand Slam titles to her name – from 20 appearances in finals – she is fourth on the all-time list, behind Steffi Graf (22), Martina Navratilova (18) and Chris Evert (18).
At Williams' present rate of return, even Graf's record could be within her reach. Since her shocking defeat in the first round here last year she has lost just three matches and won 11 titles. Yesterday's victory was her 31st win in a row.
Asked after the match to compare her feelings now with 12 months ago, Williams said: "I'm still a little upset about that loss last year, but for me it's all about how you recover. For champions it's about how you recover from your downs, whether those downs are defeats, injuries or whatever."
Sharapova is the world No 2, but the Russian has now lost to Williams 13 times in succession, her last victory over the American having come at the end of 2004. Sharapova was the defending champion here and pushed Williams hard, but from the moment the world No 1 won four games in a row, having lost the first two, the result was rarely in doubt.
The first Roland Garros final between the world's top two ranked women since 1995 – and the first at any Grand Slam event since 2004 – was a hugely competitive affair. The screams of "Come on!" by both players showed how much this meant to them and the level of commitment throughout was outstanding.
Sharapova struck the ball with her usual venom from the baseline, but in truth the Russian never had enough variety in her game to trouble Williams consistently. There were times when she had Williams on the run, chasing balls into the corner, but chose not to come into the net and finish off the point.
Williams, in contrast, showed what an excellent all-court player she has become. While her serve is the most potent weapon in women's tennis – she hit 10 aces in the final and dropped only eight out of 35 points on her first serve – there is much more to her game than that.
Although Sharapova broke back to level the first set at 4-4, Williams quickly took the next two games. Sharapova saved five break points to hold serve in the opening game of the second set, but two games later Williams made what proved to be the last break of the match. She served out for victory after an hour and 46 minutes in appropriate style with a thunderous ace.
Sharapova said that Williams' serve had been crucial and suggested that it was even more powerful than that of David Ferrer, who will face Rafael Nadal in today's men's final.
"I think if I was built like Serena I hope I'd be able to hit a big serve like that, too," Sharapova said. "She's a competitor. She doesn't like to give free points and free games. No matter what the score is, she wants to win those games and those points, whether she's down a break point or up a break point or whatever it is."
The only wonder is that it has taken Williams 11 years to win her second title here. The American has become an excellent performer on clay – she has lost only once on the surface in the last two years – and clearly loves playing here. She has a flat in Paris and is coached by the Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou at his academy on the outskirts of the capital. "I want to come back here and win again," she told the crowd after her victory. "I think I'm a Parisian."
As Lead Partner of British Tennis, financial services company Aegon is helping to transform the sport, supporting the game at a grass-roots level through to world-class events. For more information please visit: www.aegontennis.co.uk
Serena's grand Slam roll of honour...
Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010
French Open 2002, 2013
Wimbledon 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012
US Open 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012
French Open champion Kyle
Kyle Edmund became the first British player to win a title at the French Open for 31 years when he took the boys' doubles championship with Portugal's Frederico Ferreira Silva. Edmund, 18, and Silva beat the Chileans Christian Garin and Nicolas Jarry 6-3 6-3 to claim their second Grand Slam title following their success at last year's US Open. The last British success at Roland Garros was John Lloyd, who won the mixed doubles with Australia's Wendy Turnbull in 1982.
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