There was no jumping up and down, no sudden schoolgirl giggling and waves — just a triumphant raising of her arms.
Self contained. Historic.
With that, Serena Williams proved, once again, to be simply the best as she won her third French Open and 20th Grand Slam, running off the last six consecutive games to nudge Lucie Safarova, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2.
“It’s an incredible win and 20th,” Serena said in French, as she clutched the Suzanne Lenglen trophy. “Thank you for the large support, the magnificent people and many congratulations to Lucie, a very good competitor.”
Williams’ voice wavered when she praised her father, Richard: “My dad, I love you from the bottom of my heart.”
She has now won the first two majors of the year and is already looking forward to Wimbledon; for now, her record in slam finals is 20 wins in a staggering 24 finals.
On Monday, she will further separate herself in the WTA rankings, holding a 4,421 point lead over Petra Kvitova at No. 2. That’s the equivalent of two Grand Slams.
Although Steffi Graf has the best win-loss record at Roland Garros plus 22 Grand Slam singles titles, Williams is right on her heels with a 54-11 record in Paris.
Over the last two weeks, Williams played three-set matches in five of her seven rounds. Today was no different, although at one point the final looked like business as usual for the American. She was two games away from a straight-set frolic, but Safarova — playing in her first-ever Grand Slam final — never gave up.
“I got really nervous,” Williams told NBC. “She saw that I was nervous, too. That wasn’t the girl I wanted to see playing me.”
With Williams up a set, 4-1, and 40-15, Safarova swung for the rafters. Williams’ serenity imploded as her emotional reactions needed censorship. “What the f**k are you doing,” she screamed for the world to hear.
Within minutes, the score was tied 4-4. In another wink of the eye, they stood toe-to-toe in a tiebreak, which Safarova dominated. She broke the best server in the women’s game three times, as Williams racked up eight double faults as the last set loomed.
Safarova didn’t care. She dug in, yanking her opponent from one side of the court to the other. Her ground strokes penetrated deeply in the back court. She changed the balls direction with alacrity. She broke to go up 2-0, with the crowd going crazy that the odds-on-favorite American just might not pull another rabbit out of her hat.
Williams’ language got way out of hand, yet it seemed to spark her engines. At a changeover she was handed a well-earned code violation for “audible obscenity.”
“I was so upset when I got down,” Williams told NBC. “Once I relaxed, I didn’t think about it and I started play.”
“I was trying to stay in the moment,” Safarova told NBC’s Mary Carillo about her efforts. “It was the final. I managed to come back. The she came back really strong.”
Although disappointed, Safarova’s run to the final will be viewed as her best effort at a Grand Slam in singles. She has been on tour since 2002 and has only featured at a second week in a major three times.
“It was very special,” she said about her two weeks in Paris. “It was a lot of fun to play out there today. Thank you so much to the fans. I had goosebumps hearing people cheering.”
In contrast, Williams’ two weeks were “by far the most traumatic.” “It’s been a living nightmare,” she said to NBC when it was done.
After beating Timea Bacsinszky in Thursday’s semifinal, where Williams ran off 10 consecutive games to win, she bypassed the press to visit a tournament doctor. She was supposed to have spoken to the press Friday, but just gave a statement; she was resting and expected to be ready for today’s match.
Safarova, though, has one more chance at a French Open trophy. Tomorrow, ahead of the men’s singles final, she and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will battle for their second consecutive doubles title. They joined forces for the first time in Melbourne and won it.
Come Monday morning, two women from the Czech Replublic will occupy coveted spots in the Top 10 for the first time since 1999. Kvitova will rise to No. 2 and Safarova will make her top-ten debut at No. 7.
Safarova made it a match today, swiping it out of the business as usual category and placing it firmly in the realm of an ultimate test. Safarova challenged the greatest opponent there is on the planet. We can ask for nothing more from sport. As minutes ticked away, Williams’ explosive tennis, miracle mindset, and unwavering will won out, though.
This is why they play matches, and Williams plays them better than we’ve witnessed in decades.