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It has become an all too familiar sight for tennis fans in recent years: Serena Williams braving unfortunate setbacks to incredibly emerge victorious in the end. It is a narrative that fans have seen play out in the 33-year-old American’s illustrious professional career and one that came into play again as she won her 20th grand slam title in Paris, France on Saturday, defeating world number 13 Lucie Safarova6-3,6-7(2-7),6-2 in the French Open.
It is a remarkable achievement for the world number one as she has been battling with a persistent flu since the quarter final of the tournament. This illness was most troubling for her in her semi final defeat of Timea Bacsinszky where she was a set down (for the fourth time in the tournament) and had to come from behind to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. Serena was too ill to even practice of Friday for her final showdown against her 28-year-old opponent who was playing in her own first grand slam final. However, this did not hold back Williams, with her eyes on the prize. She came out firing and raced into the lead, winning the first set and leading the second 4-1 before she lost momentum and lost on a tie break to Safarova, and proceeded to lose the second set. Safarova continued to hit Williams hard and was 2-0 up in the second set before Williams pulled another one of the famous turnarounds she’s known for (her fifth in the competition, a record for a female tennis player) and went on to win the match.
The win – her third French title – moves Serena another step closer to Steffi Graf in the all time chart of grand slam titles won. Graf, with 22, leads Williams with just two singles title. This is a realistic target for Williams as – having also won the Australian Open earlier this year – she can equal Graf’s record by winning Wimbledon and the US Open this year. Incidentally, the last person to have won all four majors in a single season was Graf in 1988.Regardless of whether she accomplishes this feat or not, she still has to win more to surpass Margaret Court’s 24 titles at the top of the chart. Not a lot of people will bet against Williams achieving this.
Queen of the Court as she is so fondly called by the general media; Serena Williams’ continued dominance of the women’s game at 33 years of age is a remarkable testament of the mental toughness which she has displayed throughout her career.
At a Trans World Event at the age of 11, bright-eyed Serena, beside her fellow tennis-playing sister Venus, was asked by a reporter, “If you were a tennis player, who would you like to be like?” She paused for a few seconds and beamed confidently at the reporter and replied, “Well, I’d like other people to be like me”, flashing her gap tooth at the camera. Those were pretty big words for an 11-year-old to say, and they might even be considered arrogant a little bit. But Serena does not just talk a big game; she walks it, and her 34 total grand slam titles are testament of that.
When she was struck down by hematoma and a pulmonary embolism in 2011, it was a widely held belief in sporting circles that Serena’s dominance had come to an end. She missed a lot of games and dropped from number 4 to number 175 in the world rankings. This is the kind of setback that would put most people on their knees, but Serena Williams is not most people. Despite a few minor setbacks on her road to discovery, Williams proved everybody wrong, pushed back and returned to the top of the world rankings, winning 11 titles in 2013, the best record in a single season since Martina Hingis in 1997.She became the oldest US Open champion in the Open Era. She is also the oldest world number 1 in WTA history.
Going into the final match, Safarova had failed to beat Williams in eight previous encounters, and much like Anna-Lena Friedman, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Timea Bacsinszky have found out since the competition started, the American’s strong will to survive was just too much for the Czech to halt thatstreak. The win also makes Williams the first player to win the first two grand slams in the same season since Jennifer Cipriati in 2001.
On the win, Serena said, “I can’t believe I won. It makes this trophy really special. I wanted to win it so bad and I just felt like I had every opportunity in this match, so being down a set in the second, third, fourth round, semi-finals, wasn’t very easy. I probably topped my most difficult time to win.” It was indeed a very tough tournament for her, and that she came out on top points to one undeniable fact: Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players to have graced the game.
Questioned on whether Serena Williams has a reasonable chance of matching Graf this year, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou said, “I think it’s the most difficult to do in tennis. That’s why it doesn’t happen often. But as she has won the first two, why not believe it’s possible? And second, with her, everything is possible.” Indeed, with Williams his words hold true.
Twitter user @jemelehill tweeted “I know @serenawilliams doesn’t have the most grand slams (yet) but let’s just call it what it is: She’s the greatest of all time.”
Few will disagree.