Her confidence was shaken considerably by those setbacks, and not long after Wimbledon she had talked about getting herself ready for 2015, as if she did not believe she had a serious chance to win the U.S. Open this year. But her outlook was altered radically by a stunning resurgence during the U.S. Open Series when Serena was victorious at Stanford, California and Cincinnati, losing only to her sister Venus in Montreal. That reversal of form following her disappointing defeats at Roland Garros and Wimbledon restored her faith in herself and gave her the impetus to go after the U.S. Open with renewed enthusiasm and conviction.
Williams was virtually letter perfect all across this past fortnight, and she did not concede a set, losing only 32 games in 14 sets. Not once in the tournament was she extended beyond 6-3 in a set. That was no mean feat. On four occasions in the past— in 2002 and 2010 at Wimbledon and in 2002 and 2008 at the U.S. OpenWilliams had collected major titles without losing a set. But she had never managed to win every set in a victorious Grand Slam tournament campaign at the cost of only three games or less. That statistic clearly reflects her steely resolve and overriding drive to win this Open. Although her draw was not as tough as in other years, the achievement remains staggering.
In the final tonight, Williams dissected Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3, recording her 18th victory in 22 major finals across her sterling career. Only Venus Williams (2001 U.S. Open and 2008 Wimbledon), Maria Sharapova (2004 Wimbledon), and Sam Stosur (2011 U.S. Open) have toppled Williams in finals at Grand Slam events. That is nothing short of stupendous. Poor Wozniacki was added to the list of Serena victims in major finals without ever really having a chance.
Perhaps the match might have been closer and Wozniacki could have made more of an impression had she converted a break point in the opening game. But Williams wiped that opportunity away with one majestic swing of the racket, acing Wozniacki out wide in the ad court. Despite missing five of eight first serves, she soon held on for 1-0, and immediately the resourceful yet overwhelmed Wozniacki was under duress. Wozniacki double faulted to fall behind 15-30 in the second game, and served another double fault for 30-40. She rallied for deuce but Serena unleashed a forehand return winner crosscourt and then fired a forehand inside-in return winner off a second serve. She had the break for 2-0, and moved swiftly to 30-0 in the third game.
But Wozniacki remained composed. She realized that Serena was at a disadvantage serving into the wind. The 24-year-old Dane collected four points in a row to break back for 1-2, and then took a 40-30 lead in the fourth game with an ace at 107 MPH down the T. Wozniacki has worked diligently this year to improve her first serve, but she still could not contain her American adversary. Williams kept driving her returns forcefully through the wind. She made it back to deuce with a backhand crosscourt winner. After two more deuces, she released a crackling forehand down the line return that was too much for Wozniacki, and a backhand crosscourt return off a first serve that was also unanswerable. Williams had broken again for 3-1, but she proceeded to play her worst game of the match in the fifth game, double faulting twice, getting broken at 15. The latter double fault was astounding because her serve landed unimaginably long.
Now Wozniacki was back to 2-3 and serving with the wind. Williams, however, remained implacable. She broke at 30 for 4-2 as an understandably apprehensive Wozniacki made a glaring unforced error off the forehand at an inopportune time. Despite missing three of five first serves, Williams held at 15 for 5-2 and then had a set point with Wozniacki serving in the eighth game. Wozniacki added some velocity to her two-handed backhand crosscourt, inducing an error off the backhand from Williams. The No. 10 seed held on with gumption for 3-5 to stay in the set, but that tenacious stand hardly mattered. Serving for the set in the ninth game, Williams put four of five first serves in play when it really mattered, producing two service winners, and closing out the set in style by concluding a scintillating rally with a backhand down the line winner behind her opponent.
First set to Williams, 6-3. Now she sensed that she was not going to lose. The tension of the opening set was behind her. Victory seemed almost inevitable. Wozniacki was playing as well as she could under the circumstances, but she was completely at the mercy of a top of the line Williams. Over the summer, Wozniacki had played a pair of close three set matches with Williams in Montreal and Cincinnati, but that was a different and far less commanding Serena. Wozniacki recognized that she was up against an unwavering player on this occasion, and it made her press, caused her to go for too much at times, and unsettled her in a serious way.
Williams commenced the second set with verve. She broke at 15 for 1-0, rendering Wozniacki helpless on the other side of the net with some of her most impressive tennis of the match. Serena reached 15-30 in that game with a terrific swing volley off the backhand directed down the middle of the court that set up a backhand drop volley winner. On break point at 15-40, Williams came forward again to force Wozniacki into a mistake on a forehand at full stretch. Williams held at love for 2-0, closing that game with an ace, making three of four first serves.
Wozniacki knew it was going to take every bit of her much admired competitive mettle to keep her in any kind of contention. She saved a break point in the third game with some fine serving under pressure, holding on tenuously for 1-2. Yet Serena was not perturbed in the least. She held at 15 for 3-1 with an impeccable forehand down the line approach setting up a forehand drive volley winner. Wozniacki stood her ground admirably, holding at 15 with an ace for 2-3, but Williams went one better: she served two aces and held at 15 for 4-2, knowing that she was closing in rapidly on the title. Wozniacki served a remarkably good game to hold for 3-4, acing Serena out wide at 106 MPH to close out a love game. Williams was locked at 30-30 in the following game, but cracked a 116 MPH service winner to the backhand, followed by a clean winner off the forehand. It was 5-3 for Williams. Wozniacki was serving to stay in the match, hoping she might find one last avenue to lead her toward success.
There was not. At 15-15, Wozniacki had an opportunity in the middle of an absorbing rally to go down the line off the forehand and perhaps win the point. She went crosscourt and suffered the consequences of that decision as Williams eventually forced her into a mistake. The next point was symbolic of the entire match for Wozniacki. Williams had her on a string, moving her methodically from side to side, controlling the point with total assurance. At the end of that exchange, Wozniacki sliced a backhand down the line, but the court was wide open for Williams to release a forehand crosscourt winner. It was 15-40, double match point for the American. She sealed it right then and there as Wozniacki drove a two-hander over the baseline. Williams had completed a 6-3, 6-3 triumph that was reminiscent in many ways of every other match she played in the tournament.
The view here is that Williams will have a productive autumn that will set the stage for a magnificent season in 2015. I believe she will win two more majors next year. She turns 33 at the end of this month but has probably never been more committed to taking the prizes of prestige and raising her stock in history. She had performed abysmally by her lofty standards at the other majors in 2014, but made up for it in many ways by winning so convincingly at the U.S. Open. The bottom line is this: when Serena Williams steps out onto a major stage to compete in a Grand Slam final, there is no other woman like her in this era. Her propensity to rise to a big occasion is second to none in her profession. Her sixth U.S. Open title run was commendable in every way.
<Steve Flink has been reporting on tennis since 1974. He has been a columnist for tennischannel.com since 2007. You can purchase Steve’s latest book “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” here.
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