When Serena Williams was ousted in the first round of the French Open, several observers thought that was an indication of fading skills. At 30, they wondered if she would ever be competitive in another Grand Slam, let alone reach the title round.
But after Saturday’s convincing 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Agnieszka Radwanska for the Wimbledon crown, the only questions surrounding Serena Williams are whether she’ll also win singles titles at the Olympics and the U.S. Open.
Williams became the first woman 30 years or older to win a Grand Slam title since 1990. It was also her fifth Wimbledon singles title. She’s only one championship short of Billie Jean King, and she’s now won more times at the famed English site than either Chris Evert or Margaret Court. The win also tied her with her sister Venus for Wimbledon championships. The sisters have won 10 of the last 13 Wimbledon titles, and have a combined 22 Grand Slam wins.
In addition, there are other historical marks left for Serena to surpass. She’s now won 14 majors, and is four short of the totals amassed by Evert and Martina Navratilova. Steffi Graf holds the women’s record for majors at 22, which might be beyond her reach as she turns 31 in September. But the fact she made it back to the winner’s circle after a two-year absence is even more astonishing, because few in tennis (male or female) continue as champions once they reach 30.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey for me,” Williams told Sports Illustrated Saturday. “Just from being that far down, the lowest of the lows, to come here and win today is just amazing. I still can’t believe I was able to do this. It hasn’t sunk in. But this is special. I couldn’t ask for anything else.” Williams jumped on Radwanska in the first set, establishing a 5-0 lead and dropping only one game. But Radwanska came back in the second set, tying things late and then holding on for a 7-5 victory that evened the match. She even took a 2-1 lead in the third set, and seemed poised to pull out an upset triumph.
But then the powerful Williams serve (she set a record for aces in the tournament) came into play. At one point Williams had four aces in a row, and she quickly evened things at 2-2, then went ahead 3-2 on a blistering return off a Radwanska second serve. From that point on, Williams was dominant once more, as she didn’t lose another game in the climatic third set. She also displayed a second weapon, the drop shot, that earned her some critical points.
“No one hits more drop shots than me in practice,” Williams said. “I’m shocked I don’t hit more in a match. I didn’t even think about that one (in-game five) I just hit it. I was so happy she didn’t run it down. After that, I thought, I can definitely do this.”
Her opponent didn’t comment about any physical problems, though she had been battling a respiratory ailment for several days. She also never stopped battling, though she ultimately couldn’t muster the strength or speed to overcome Williams’ assaults.
“I got too anxious out there, and I shouldn’t have,” Radwanska said. “She started playing excellent grass-court tennis, getting a lot of balls back, and I panicked a little bit. I usually don’t. But give credit where it’s due. She had decided that she was there to win Wimbledon, as well. I’m still shaking so much. It’s a dream, for everyone to be in the finals, and I’m basically just very happy. Disappointed to lose, but happy. It was the best two weeks of my life.”
It was little more than 12 months ago that Serena Williams was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. At that point there was talk about retirement. Now she’s not only going on to the Olympics, she also shared the doubles crown as she and Venus took that trophy as well. Since 1994, when Venus made her professional debut at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, the Williams sisters have been the biggest American stars in women’s tennis, if not the sport as a whole. That remains the case today.
Photo By: Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images