Super Serena sinks Sharapova

LONG WAIT::When Serena Williams first hoisted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 2002, little did the world No. 1 know she would have to wait another 11 years to do it again

Reuters, PARIS

Mon, Jun 10, 2013 - Page 20

The look in her eyes said: “Don’t mess with me” and no one dared to cross Serena Williams during an unforgettable French Open when the American proved she “really, really wanted” the title “more than anyone else.”

Just how much she wanted it was clear for all to see when at 5:02pm on Saturday the world No. 1 fired a lethal 198kph ace, tossed her racket, sunk to her knees and arched back to let out a primal roar that went on and on and on.

The guttural howl that marked her 6-4, 6-4 win over last year’s champion Maria Sharapova was so loud that perhaps even her 71-year-old father Richard could hear it back in the US.

As his youngest daughter added more silverware to the family’s overflowing mantelpiece, a 16th singles Grand Slam trophy no less, Williams was left to reflect on a journey 11 years in the making.

When she hoisted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup for the first time in 2002, little did she know she would have to wait until 2013 to experience the joy of winning the clay-court major again.

“After 11 years it’s incredible. I want to come back here and win again. I think I’m Parisienne,” a delirious Serena told the crowd in French after becoming the oldest woman to win the title since tennis went professional in 1968.

The last time she triumphed at the spiritual home of clay-court tennis, the 31-year-old American turned out to be an unstoppable force as she went on to complete what she dubbed the “Serena Slam.”

After conquering the surface that is considered to be her weakest, it could well be game on for yet another “Serena Slam” as she is now on an astonishing 31-match winning streak following her humbling of Sharapova.

The top seed, who flashed up 10 manicured fingers and then six more on Saturday to signal her total Grand Slam haul, completed a remarkable turnaround from 12 months ago when she surprisingly perished in the first round.

“I’ve always said a champion isn’t about how much they win, but it’s about how they recover from their downs, whether it’s an injury or whether it’s a loss,” said Williams, who is already guaranteed a place among the all-time greats. “I think that really creates a real champion. My winning appetite is really high. I definitely want to continue my journey to get a few more.”

Since that shock defeat last year, Williams has scooped up titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open and now Paris. She has also climbed to the top of the rankings and has an incredible 75-4 win-loss record in the past 12 months.

Sharapova succumbed to her for the sixth time in a year on Saturday as Roland Garros hosted a final between the world’s top two women for the first time in 18 years.

The 26-year-old Russian, who was playing in the juniors the last time Williams was flashing the victory sign in Paris, has come a long way since she likened herself to a “cow on ice” on red dirt, but if she wanted to block out her dreadful record against Williams, she was in for a horrid shock because as she walked up for the opening service game, the giant screen on Court Philippe Chatrier flashed up “Face-to-Face: Williams 13, Sharapova 2.”

It was little wonder the Russian was 0-40 down within a blink of an eye, but she somehow managed to blast her way out of trouble, before breaking for a 2-0 lead.

Greeting each one of her winners with cries of “Come on,” Sharapova capitalized on early errors by Williams to move within a point of a 3-0 lead.

The American simply glared, picked out her target and made the statuesque 1.88m Sharapova skid around like a giraffe on ice as she smashed the ball away to break back.

Williams left Sharapova grunting, lunging and scrambling in despair as she moved into a 4-2 lead, but the second seed refused to roll over and dragged herself level at 4-4 when her opponent sent a backhand wide.

However, there was no reprieve for the Russian as Williams kept bombarding her half of the court with relentless baseline winners.

The American broke serve for a third time with a screaming forehand winner that flew past her outstretched opponent.

After sealing the opening set in 51 minutes, it was only a matter of time before Williams moved full throttle ahead.

The world No. 1 was less than amused when she failed to convert five break points in the opening game of the second set, but at 1-1 the pressure began to mount on Sharapova, who surrendered serve with a mishit backhand into the tramlines.

The 15,000 fans packed into Court Philippe Chatrier got firmly behind the reigning champion as they lustily cheered her winners, but all the support in the world could not save her from flatlining to a 13th straight defeat against Williams.

Serving for the championship at 5-4, Serena thundered a 190kph ace, boomed down a 195kph ace and finally banged the 198kph effort that snuffed out Sharapova’s hopes.

“Getting to the Roland Garros final is not too shabby … I put up a fight today, but it was not enough,” Sharapova said.