Serena makes triumphant start to her 'new career'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was a chilling message for the rest of women's tennis. "I feel like I have a new career," Serena Williams said here in the early hours of yesterday morning after claiming her third US Open singles title. "I feel so young and I feel so energised to play every week and to play every tournament. I feel like there's just so much that I can do in my career yet. I've never felt like I've played my best tennis."

Williams, who beat Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 7-5 is still only 26, but this was her first home Grand Slam title for six years. Two years ago she was being written off, having hardly played and apparently lost her appetite for tennis. Now she is back at the top of the women's rankings for the first time for five years and ready to dominate as she did with her sister Venus after the turn of the century.

Serena and Venus, 28, have already seen off Martina Hingis twice, most notably after the Swiss Miss had spent a total of 209 weeks as world No 1 between 1997 and 2001; Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, who both retired before their 26th birthdays; and Lindsay Davenport and Amélie Mauresmo, who are playing out their days on the women's circuit.

Now the sisters, who were taught the game by their father on the public courts at Compton in California, are threatening to leave a new generation of players in the shade. Maria Sharapova, 21, is nursing her injured shoulder and healthy bank balance; Ana Ivanovic, 20, has yet to prove she can sustain the form that brought her a first Grand Slam title in Paris three months ago; Dinara Safina, 22, must perform on the biggest stages; Jankovic, 23, may ultimately lack the sheer physical strength to beat the sisters.

While the final was one of the better matches, this US Open has not been a great advertisement for women's tennis. The best match by some margin was the battle between the Williams sisters in the quarter-finals and from a very early stage the smart money was on one of the two women to take the crown.

So long as the sisters retain their commitment to tennis, the game's biggest prizes, with the possible exception of the clay-court title in Paris, appear to be theirs for the taking. Venus, who beat Serena in the Wimbledon final, looks unstoppable on grass, while both women appear to have the beating of everyone else on hard courts. They have already won 16 Grand Slam titles between them.

This was Serena's ninth and reward for her hard work and dedication. When she came back to win last year's Australian Open as the world No 81 she looked well short of peak condition, but her fitness here has been evident. She did not drop a set in the entire tournament, matching her achievement in 2002, when she was on course for her "Serena Slam", winning all four majors in succession but not in the same calendar year.

"I've been working so hard all year," she said. "Sometimes I've woken up at six in the morning to go and practise and it was too dark. I'd have to wait until it gets light. It's just paying off. No one really knows the work that an athlete puts in."

Jankovic, who would also have taken over the No 1 ranking if she had won, was outhit for periods of the match, but the Serb is a dogged performer and fought back well in the second set. At one stage Williams was serving at 3-5 and 0-40, but Jankovic was unable to capitalise.

"I felt I had her, because she was really tired at the end of the second set," Jankovic said. "Who knows what would have happened if I had got into a third set? I probably would have had the upper hand. But who knows?"

In her moment of victory Serena could not contain her joy, repeatedly jumping in the air in celebration. "I never knew Serena to be very, very excited," her father Richard said. "I knew Serena to be very, very mean. I describe her as being a combination of a pit bull dog, a young Mike Tyson and an alligator."