June 9, 2013

Williams enjoys a French renaissance

The American who keeps a Paris apartment overwhelms Maria Sharapova for her first Roland Garros title since 2002.

The Associated Press

The American who keeps a Paris apartment overwhelms Maria Sharapova for her first Roland Garros title since 2002.

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Serena Williams celebrates her victory in the French Open on Saturday, telling an appreciative crowd she considers herself a Parisian.

The Associated Press

MEN'S FINAL

WHO: No. 3 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 4 David Ferrer

WHEN: 9 a.m. Sunday

TELEVISION: NBC

PARIS - Serena Williams knew, of course, that 11 years had passed since her only French Open championship.

She also knew, of course, what happened a year ago in Paris: the only first-round Grand Slam loss of her career, to a woman ranked outside the top 100, no less.

Eager to repeat the elation of 2002, and motivated by the disappointment of 2012, Williams used terrific defense and her usual powerful hitting in Saturday's final, closing with a crescendo of aces -- three in the last game -- for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over defending champion Maria Sharapova to collect a second Roland Garros title and 16th major trophy overall.

"I'm still a little bit upset about that loss last year," the No. 1-ranked Williams said with a chuckle. "But it's all about, for me, how you recover."

Her eyes welled with tears. There have been low moments for the 31-year-old American -- none worse, perhaps, than a 10-month stretch ending in 2011 that included two foot operations and treatment for lung clots -- but she's now enjoying a high point.

Saturday's victory was her 31st in a row.

"She is playing extremely well," Sharapova said. "She's a competitor."

Sharapova is known for her grit on a court, too. She entered Saturday ranked No. 2, the winner of her last 13 French Open matches, and the only active woman other than the Williams sisters with more than two Grand Slam titles. But she doesn't seem to stand a chance against Serena, who has won their last 13 encounters.

This was the first major final between women ranked 1-2 in more than nine years and yet it really wasn't that close.

Amid a breeze that blew dust in both players' eyes, Sharapova began well enough, saving four break points in the first game, then breaking in the second. The next game went to 40-15 on Sharapova's serve, one point from a 3-0 lead. That's when Williams got going.

A 13-stroke exchange culminated with a forehand that forced Sharapova's backhand error and started a four-point, break-earning run for Williams. She got to 2-1 with an overhead smash she punctuated with a staredown, a raised left fist and a loud "Come on!"

That fist was aloft again a half-hour later, when Williams' cross-court forehand winner helped her break to lead 5-4, and she served out the set.

Sharapova saved five break points in the second set's opening game, but that merely delayed what everyone expected. Williams got the last break she would need two games later, and it was made possible by the sort of baseline scrambling she did all day. Sharapova struck a forehand down the line that would have ended the point against most opponents, but Williams got the ball back, and with an extra shot necessary, the Russian slapped a forehand into the net.

On break point, Sharapova smacked a 109 mph serve, but Williams' strong return forced another mistake. Now Williams merely needed to hold serve the rest of the way, and half of her 10 aces came in her last two service games.

Sharapova observed that Williams serves "harder than David Ferrer," referring to the man who will face seven-time champion Rafael Nadal in the men's final Sunday.

Serving at 5-4, Williams recalled, "I was just so nervous. I thought, 'I'm not going to be able to hit groundstrokes.' No joke. The one groundstroke I did hit went, like, 100 feet out. I thought to myself, 'Look, Serena, you've just got to hit aces. That's your only choice.' "

Simple as that? Well, with her, yes.

She started with an ace at 118 mph. After a wild backhand miss, she hit an ace at 121 mph. She got to 40-15 with a backhand winner and crouched down, aware she was one point away.

One more strong swing delivered the fastest ace yet, 123 mph. A few minutes later she was addressing an appreciative crowd in French, telling them about her "incroyable" victory and noting she considers herself a Parisian. She owns an apartment in the city and has been working with a French coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

"She feels a bit at home here," Mouratoglou said.

 

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