SERENA Williams cemented her status as far and away the best player in women’s tennis by winning a second French Open title 11 years after her first.
Roland Garros has been the American’s most troublesome grand slam venue but she has looked the champion in waiting all fortnight and beat Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 in a high-level final yesterday.
Sharapova won the title for the first time last year and played extremely well but, as she has been for the last 12 months, Williams was just too good. The world No.1 has earned the support of the Paris crowd over the past fortnight by speaking French in her on-court interviews, although the emotion of victory seemed to get the better of her language skills.
Instead of saying, “It is unbelievable”, Williams said, “I’m unbelievable”. But no-one who watched her would disagree. The 31-year-old went into the final on a 30-match winning streak and unbeaten against Sharapova for nine years.
Things did not bode well for the Russian when she lost the first three points on her serve, but she fought back impressively to hold and then became only the second player this tournament after Svetlana Kuznetsova to break the Williams serve.
Sharapova was fist-pumping and yelling “Come on” after every point won, and she was on the verge of moving into a 3-0 lead when she led 40-15 on her own serve, but back came Williams. The American won four straight points to break, and her immense power helped her win the next three games as well.
Sharapova’s serve is both a strength and a weakness, but she dug in to stop the rot, and then exploited some nervousness in her opponent’s play to level at 4-4.
A crunching forehand winner gave Williams another break to leave her serving for the set, and the world No.1’s awesome serve helped her take it, with Sharapova drifting a backhand wide on the final point.
The last time Sharapova beat Williams in a final was at Wimbledon in 2004 when she was 17. In the Olympic gold medal match last year, the Russian managed just a single game.
Sharapova knew she needed a good start to the second set, and two double faults did not bode well, but, like the first, she dug in and saved five break points.
Williams has been a woman on a mission for the past year, though, winning 74 of 77 matches since a shock first-round defeat here by Virginie Razzano.
She knew she would never have a better chance to win a second French Open title, and everything Sharapova threw at her opponent was coming back with interest.
Williams won three games in a row, but Sharapova survived another long service game to hold for 3-2.
But the defending champion could get nowhere near the Williams serve, and there appeared no nerves at all as she smashed three aces in the final game to win in an hour and 46 minutes.
Sharapova said: “I played a great tournament and ran up against a really tough champion. She’s been playing so well throughout this year so a big congratulations to her.
“This court has brought me so many nice memories. Last year was incredibly special for me and to be back on this stage and be one of the last two players in the tournament is special. I would have loved to have won it but I’ll be back next year.”