Serena Williams takes strength from sickness battle

World No 1 battled flu during victorious French Open campaign

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The Independent Online

Hours after she had beaten Lucie Safarova to claim her 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open in Paris, Serena Williams was still coughing and spluttering, having battled with flu for more than a week.

As she struggled to gather her thoughts on her triumph and the challenges that lie ahead, the world No 1 admitted: “My mind is fuzzy right now. You’ll have to forgive me.”

Williams has overcome significantly stronger opposition en route to many of her previous Grand Slam triumphs, but this was arguably her bravest effort. The 33-year-old American, having fallen ill after her third-round match, was unable to practise the day before the final and in the evening felt worse than she had all week.

“I was miserable,” she said. “I was in my bed shaking. I started to tell myself to think positive, but I felt really bad. Everything that came out of my mouth was really positive, but I really didn’t feel like I was going to be able to walk, let alone compete.”

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Williams won a 20th Grand Slam title

Might this experience give Williams encouragement that she could overcome future obstacles? “Yes, I think it will definitely give me strength, but at the same time some days you have your day and some days you don’t,” she said. “Some days I’m really healthy and I don’t play as well. And some days when you’re sick or you’re not feeling well you’re kind of forced to play better because you have no other options.”

Williams’ 20th Grand Slam title leaves her two short of Steffi Graf’s Open era record and four behind Margaret Court’s all-time mark. Victory at Wimbledon next month would complete her second “Serena Slam” -– winning all four major titles consecutively but not in the same calendar year -– and would keep her on course for the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf 27 years ago.

This is Williams’ best run since 2002-03, when she won five out of a run of six Grand Slam tournaments. Since starting to work with Patrick Mouratoglou three years ago, Williams has won seven of the last 12 Grand Slam tournaments. When she has not won the title she has tended to lose early: in her other five tournaments she has made just one quarter-final.

“My thing now is just to stay really focused from the beginning of the week, to take every match seriously,” she said. “I always say that I want to take every match seriously but I’ve really got to take those first rounds and make them really important.”

Safarova, playing in her first Grand Slam singles final, made a decent fight of it, recovering from a set and 4-1 down to level the match and lead 2-0 in the decider, only for Williams to win six games in a row to secure a 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory. The 28-year-old Czech fared better in yesterday’s doubles final. Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands followed their title triumph at the Australian Open by beating Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

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