Serena Makes History in Textbook Finish
Story by Valerie Jo Bradley
Photos by Margot Jordan
New York… Serena Williams became the reigning queen of the US Open as she made history on the 14thday of the tournament and joined an elite sorority of tennis players who’ve won the US Open women’s singles title for three consecutive years, when she slaughtered Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki in two 6-3 and 6-3 straights. This latest in a long list of victories over the years marked her 18th Grand Slam singles championship which tied her with past winners Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who in celebration of the moment joined her on the court bearing a Tiffany & Co. 18 karat gold bracelet with an no. 18 engraved medallion dangling from it to go along with the gleaming Tiffany trophy and the $4 million check she received ($3 million winner’s purse and $1 million for finishing first in the Emirates Airline series in the run-up to the Open). If that wasn’t enough, she tied with Evert when she won her sixth singles title for the most wins in the Open era. “I could never have imagined that I would be mentioned with Chris Evert or with Martina Navratilova, because I was just a kid with a dream and racquet…living in Compton,” said the 32-year-old tennis wonder.
Williams was at the top of her game upon returning to her home country licking her wounds due to a series of disappointing eliminations earlier in the year at the Australian Open losing in the fourth round; at the French Open losing in the second; and at Wimbledon losing in the third. Despite the media pounding about her poor performance earlier in the year and questions about her age and desire, she came to the Open looking to erase those memories and perhaps the luck of the draw early on helped bolster her resolve to win and move on to the hallowed halls of tennis history. She won 14 perfect straight sets and was never extended deeper than 6-3 in any one set during the event. The stadium crowds hurled mammoth yells of encouragement during every round, which also had to mean something to Williams who probably remembers how that support was missing when two teenage black girls with heads full of braids strung with bouncing beads, Serena and her sister Venus, first entered the competition. Perhaps that is why after every round Williams effusively thanked the crowd for their support.
Gaining momentum and gathering more focus as the rounds increased, Williams, the oldest player in the draw at the quarterfinal level, dominated an overmatched Wozniacki during the champion-winning seventh round. The No. 11 seed, Wozniacki beat Williams once in nine career head-to-heads. The trend continued at the final match of the tournament as Woznacki fell behind the second set. Williams settled in and began to run one of women tennis’ expert baseliners from corner to corner. Wozniacki wore herself out running all over the court as Williams smashed ball after ball without barely moving much from the baseline. The volleys sometime reached the pitch of men’s matches, but usually ended with Wozniacki retuning to the net. Williams would allow her opponent just one non-ace winner before the last volley that landed out. Before you could exhale, Williams was lying flat on the court, crying tears of joy. Wozniacki later said, “When she’s on her game it’s not fun to play her.” The fierceness ended between the two who are good friends when the match ended. “We’re going to hang out tonight. I’m going to buy the drinks,” laughed Williams at the follow up press conference.
She became the only American, female or male, left standing after she dusted fellow compatriots in the first three rounds including her protégé and up and coming winner Taylor Townsend in the first round, Vania King in the second and hitting partner Varvara Lepchenko in the third. The match between Williams and Lepchenko was the most interesting up to that point. As the wind whipped around the court and the two players tried to adjust their strategy to deal with it, there was lots of fist pumping on point wins, scrambling behind baseline and visible shows of frustration after returning erratic shots that lasted an hour and 36 minutes – one of the longest for a Williams match at this year’s Open. During the fourth round Williams showed more confidence and focus and with her 115 mph serve, she handily dusted Kaia Kenepi of Estonia.
This was the year of unprecedented upsets and for the first time in the Open era only one of the top eight seeds, Williams, had advanced to the quarter-finals. Also it was the first time that just two of the Top 10 seeds have done the same. Three Top 10 seeds advanced in 1993 and 2009, the previous lows. Coincidentally, three of the quarterfinalists in 2009 were Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Flavia Pennetta, all of whom were back in the quarters this year.
When she met up with Pennetta for the fifth round, Williams was demonstrative and exuded much more confidence as she skillfully finished off the Italian player in less than one hour. At the post-match press conference Williams confidently said, “I think I played really well in my quarterfinal minus the slow start. I think I served better in my quarterfinal.”
By the time she reached the semifinals Williams was on a roll and virtually breezed past Russian opponent Ekaterina Makarova who was playing in her first career Grand Slam semi after upsetting Eugenie Bouchard and Victoria Azarenka, who had reached the US Open final in each of the last two years. The scorching heat, that was close to 100 degrees on court, debilitated Wozniacki’s Chinese opponent, Shuai Peng, in the semifinal round and was the cause for ending the round during the second set. Ignoring the heat which dropped slightly as the sun began to set, Williams hunkered down to business. Makarova had not dropped a set en route to her semifinal run, and she entered with a strong game. She had defeated Williams at the 2012 Australian Open. However, at this match, she was no match as Williams finished with 24 winners to Makarova's six. While Makarova was prone to spraying shots wide and long, Williams slammed winners with authority and aggressively attacked the Russian’s serves. A final unforced error from Makarova in the second match handed Williams the win at the one-hour mark.
Right after winning the championship and being handed the $4 million purse, Williams avoided sharing her plans for spending the money by saying, “I will be giving my uncle…Uncle Sam a great deal of it.” The next day she told a select group of reporters that the money earned would keep her construction of a new house down the street from her sister Venus on track. The construction plans include several special rooms -- a trophy, a karaoke and a purse room.
Williams was asked if her sights had turned to matching Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 major wins. “I did do an interview on court and I did mention No. 19, so I know that’s already in sight,” she said. “I definitely feel like 19 is my goal, not 22. When I get to 19, knowing me, 20 will be my goal. But I’m just taking it one at a time. And there are so many unbelievable players coming up, so I think it’s only going to keep getting harder and harder.”
Post match news conference at Billie Jean King Tennis Center