A mile­stone slam

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY DOU­GLAS ROB­SON sports@wash­post.com

Serena Wil­liams beats Lu­cie Sa­farova for third French Open, 20th Grand Slam.

paris — Serena Wil­liams has borne her share of un­ex­pected losses— some of her worst here at the French Open. But in a Grand Slam fi­nal? With a dom­i­nat­ing lead? That would have been novel even for her.

Wil­liams avoided that plot twist Satur­day af­ter­noon by find­ing an­other gear— as she al­most al­ways does. The top-ranked Amer­i­can sur­vived a mid-match lapse and a third-set deficit to beat 13th-seeded Lu­cie Sa­farova of the Czech Repub­lic, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-2, for her third French Open ti­tle and 20th ma­jor cham­pi­onship.

“It­makes this tro­phy re­ally spe­cial,” said Wil­liams, who im proved to 32-1 this year, in­clud­ing 12-0 in three-set­ters, and stretched her un­beaten streak in ma­jors to 21 matches. “I re­ally wanted it. I wanted to win so bad.”

In the com­ple­tion of Fri­day’s suspended men’s semi­fi­nal, No. 1 No­vak Djokovic sur­vived a fu­ri­ous push from No. 3 Andy Mur­ray, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1.

Wil­liams con­tin­ues to reel in his­tory, even at her ten­nis-ad­vanced age of 33.

Only two women have won more Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles than the Amer­i­can: Open-era leader St­effi Graf with 22 and all­time record holder Mar­garet Smith Court with 24.

Wil­liams is within re­al­is­tic dis­tance of both. She also re­mains on track for a true cal­en­dar year Grand Slam, last ac­com­plished by Graf in 1988. The last player to get half­way there was Jen­nifer Capriati in 2001.

“It’s pretty awe­some to have 20,” Wil­liams said. “Ob­vi­ously I would love to win a [cal­en­dar year] Grand Slam.”

Win­ning in Paris was dif­fi­cult enough. Wil­liams over­came a mid-tour­na­ment flu, nerves and five three-set matches — the most in any ma­jor ti­tle run of her ca­reer.

She de­scribed her last 48 hours as “a night­mare” and said Satur­day she didn’t know whether she would be well enough to play the fi­nal.

“I think this might have been her most chal­leng­ing one,” Fed Cup cap­tain Mary Joe Fer­nan­dez said.

It will not god own as her pret­ti­est.

In the fi­nal, she com­mit­ted 42 un­forced er­rors, dumped nine dou­ble faults and was warned by the chair um­pire for an au­di­ble ob­scen­ity.

Wil­liams hasn’t lost a Grand Slam fi­nal since los­ing to Sa­man­tha Sto­sur at the 2011U.S. Open. A sim­i­lar out­come seemed un­likely Satur­day on Court Philippe Cha­trier. For a set and a half, Wil­liams pum­meled Sa­farova with 120mph serves serve and quick-strike re­turns, es­pe­cially from the fore­hand side.

Though Sa­farova, 28, of­fered some re­sis­tance, Wil­liams showed no ef­fects from the ill­ness that left her look­ing lethar­gic, at least be­tween points, in Thurs­day’s semi­fi­nal come­back against Timea Bac­sin­szky.

But lead­ing 6-3, 4-1 and 40-15, Wil­liams un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally cracked. The game’s best server un­loaded three dou­ble faults, in­clud­ing con­sec­u­tive mis­takes to drop serve for the first time in the match.

“I was just so an­gry at my­self,” Wil­liams said. “I pretty much gave the [set] away.”

Em­bold­ened, Sa­farova— an ex­plo­sive, late-bloom­ing lefty — seized the mo­ment.

She reeled off four straight games — break­ing Wil­liams two more times, in­clud­ing at 6-5 when Wil­liams served for the match — and then out­played her in the tiebreaker.

As the games ticked away, so did Wil­liams’s com­po­sure.

She pleaded to the sky, screamed “C’mons” and vi­ciously be­rated her­self in ex­ple­tive-laced tirades. Mid­way through the third set, um­pire Em­manuel Joseph slapped her with a warn­ing.

By then it was im­ma­te­rial. The sport’s best big-match player had re­asserted her power game, and af­ter fall­ing into a 2-0 hole she won the fi­nal six games of the match.

“I couldn’t find any weapon that could stop her,” said Sa­farova, who was com­pet­ing in her maiden Grand Slam fi­nal.

Af­ter hand­cuff­ing Sa­farova with an­other win­ning re­turn on match point, Wil­liams stood for a long mo­ment, un­able to be­lieve she had found her way through all the ad­ver­sity. When it sunk in, she dropped her racket and lifted her arms in tri­umph.

At 20-4, Wil­liams owns the sec­ond-best win­ning per­cent­age (.833) in ma­jor fi­nals in the post1968 Open era (for play­ers with a min­i­mum of five fi­nals played). Court was 11-1 (.917) but24-5 in her en­tire ca­reer (.827), which is lower than Wil­liams’s cur­rent mark.

All four of Wil­liams’s de­feats in Grand Slam fi­nals were in straight sets.

With vic­to­ries at last year’s U.S. Open and Jan­uary’s Aus­tralian Open, Wil­liams is three-quar­ters of the way to an­other four con­sec­u­tive ma­jors — a re­peat of the so-called “Serena Slam” of 200203 when the Amer­i­can won ti­tles in Paris, Lon­don, New York and Mel­bourne. Con­sid­er­ing her big serve and present form, the five­time Wim­ble­don win­ner will be a heavy fa­vorite to add an­other.

Since re­turn­ing to Grand Slam play at 2011 Wim­ble­don fol­low­ing an 11-month ab­sence caused by in­jury and ill­ness, Wil­liams has cap­tured seven of 16 ma­jors she has en­tered.

Even her coach, the French­man Pa­trick Mourata­glou, said he was left mar­veling at what she had over­come dur­ing her two weeks in Paris.

“She im­presses me and every­body all the time,” he said.

He said win­ning a cal­en­dar year Grand Slam and catch­ing Graf at the U.S. Open would be “huge” but cau­tioned that much road lay ahead. “We’re still far,” he said. On the men’s side, Djokovic ad­vanced to his third French Open fi­nal, where he will face Swiss No. 8 seed Stan Wawrinka, who de­feated 14th-seeded Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga in four sets Fri­day.

Djokovic, seek­ing his first ti­tle in Paris and a ca­reer Grand Slam, played a dom­i­nant fifth set in a con­test halted Fri­day be­cause of an on­com­ing storm with the play­ers locked at 3-3 in the fourth set.

Mur­ray was un­able to hold off Djokovic af­ter ral­ly­ing to force a fifth set when play re­sumed.

Djokovic, an eight-time ma­jor win­ner who ran his un­beaten streak to 28, clinched the 4-hour 9-minute match with an ace. Satur­day’s play took 61 min­utes.

“I don’t think I have done too much wrong, even to­day in the fourth [set],” Djokovic said. “He just came up with some great shots, great points.”

Djokovic broke Mur­ray in the sec­ond game of the fifth set with the help of three un­forced er­rors. Mur­ray was un­able to sus­tain his level, and Djokovic broke him again in the sixth game.

Djokovic is 41-2 this sea­son, in­clud­ing 11-1 in de­cid­ing sets.

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