Monday, September 8, 2008
Serena Williams celebrates her straight-set victory over Serbia's Jelena Jankovic in the U.S. Open women's final on Sunday.
NEW YORK -- A woman who at 17 won a U.S. Open and looked almost disbelieving won a U.S. Open at 26 Sunday night and commenced thoroughly hopping.
So this Serena Williams hopped and hopped and hopped, seven hops in all, her euphoria suggestive of the wait it took to attain it and the struggle of beating Jelena Jankovic to earn it.
"I'm sorry, I'm so excited," Williams told Jankovic as they hugged at the net after their stirring 6-4, 7-5 final that gave Williams her third U.S. Open title, her ninth Grand Slam singles title and, more poignantly, her first U.S. Open title since 2002 and her first Slam title since January 2007.
"I think this title meant more to Serena than any title Serena ever won," her father, mentor and co-coach, Richard Williams, said while leaning on a table just outside Arthur Ashe Stadium moments later. "I can't speak for her, but that's what I think."
Serena differed from that only slightly, deeming all nine Grand Slams special and speaking of aiming toward double digits, but said, "I'm so excited I can't even describe it," later adding, "I feel so young and I feel so energized."
The meaning certainly seemed palpable when Richard stepped out onto the court after a tense 2-hour 4-minute final, and Serena just about keeled over leaning into him for an embrace. It reflected her five-year struggle to return to No. 1, which she did with the win, and her woe over her Wimbledon final loss to her sister Venus, plus the strife of her tete-a-tete with the human backboard known as Jankovic.
As Jankovic graced her first Grand Slam final and won over New York with her serial smiling, she displayed her knack for running down just about every ball in creation. Williams' hitting partner Aleksander Bajin said that in emulating Jankovic in practice, "I was running . . . and just trying to get as many balls back as I could."
A harbinger of how the finalists would crush groundstrokes came early when Williams creamed a forehand and dropped an earring.
Repeatedly, the No. 2-ranked Jankovic would push Williams to toil, and repeatedly, Williams would reveal her reacquired knack for shutting off her error flow in the pivotal moments. She made 39 unforced errors to 22 for Jankovic, and also 44 winners to Jankovic's 15, but Williams grew airtight late in the second set, during which she faced four set points.
All the while, Richard Williams sat in the second row fretting, noticing how Serena couldn't push off from an infirm ankle and hoping Jankovic wouldn't notice and start hitting everything toward Williams' backhand.
Facing three set points while serving at 3-5 in the second set, Williams played three impenetrable points to get to deuce, and facing a set point while Jankovic served at 5-4, Williams caught a break when the Serbian double-faulted, the second fault flying long and looking so awkward it seemed burdened by the moment.
"I let it go," Jankovic said in a typically jovial news conference in which she dredged frequent laughs from the audience. Seeing as she had another double fault while serving for the set, she said, "I don't know. . . . I gave her a lot of gifts when it was crucial."
As for Williams, "I just got so positive," she said. "I was like, I really want to win, and all I have to do is break and hold, break and hold, break and hold . . ." In the end she won all 14 U.S. Open sets and fended off 14 set points, including 10 in her quarterfinal against Venus.
For an appreciative audience that occasionally gave standing ovations to two players who adore the moment -- Jankovic enjoyed gawking up at herself on the big video screen -- Williams presented a viewing of the bottomless will her father calls "unbelievable."
Finally, on Jankovic's serve, they played a two-deuce game in which Williams made one forehand error that looked simply exhausted. But the will kicked in, and she engaged Jankovic in an 11-shot rally on deuce that led to a Jankovic backhand into the net. On match point, 14 shots in all, Williams lined up a backhand that would end her wait for a Grand Slam title in her year of renewed labor and organization.
She mauled that thing cross-court for a clean winner that landed near the doubles line, and her racket went airborne, and she began to bounce at 26 in a way she didn't do even at 17.
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