Saturday, June 08, 2013

Serena Loves Paris in the Springtime, and Paris (finally) Loves Her Back

For more than a decade, the fates have often conspired against Serena Williams and thwarted her attempts to win a second Roland Garros crown. From "The Wave" of Justine Henin to "The Upset" by Virginie Razzano nine years later, it was "always something." But this time, it was Williams' dominant self that was the something in Paris.

Again. Finally.

In a Parisian sequel eleven years in the making, Williams defeated defending champion Maria Sharapova 6-4/6-4 in the women's final in the first match-up in the RG championship match-up of the world's #1 and #2-ranked players in eighteen years.

As it turned out, it took nearly a "perfect storm" to lead Williams back to the same spot, on the exact same date in June, where she began her "Serena Slam" run in 2002. Her own health issues, those of her sister Venus, and that single loss to Razzano (in the 1st Round a year ago, Williams' only opening match exit ever in a slam) that focused her sights on her personal goals, career legacy and her joy at being able to ably pursue both. Since her tear-laced exit from Roland Garros last spring, one could sense that Williams wouldn't leave France this June without her long-elusive second RG crown, but the tangible proof that Serena has provided over the span that she is once again the best women's player on the planet has been overwhelming. Going into the final with just three losses in seventy-six post-Razzano matches, Williams has been picking up slams, high-level titles and Olympic Golds like they've been trinkets at a sidewalk bazaar. But it was always the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen that has made her eyes grow large, because it had been playing hard-to-get for oh-so-long. Bringing the City of Light closer to her heart, Williams joined forces with French coach Patrick Mouratoglou over the past year, allowing all her best attributes, both on and off court, to be both uncovered and sharpened in the process. Maybe no more drastically than on the clay, where she's transformed herself from a simple basher of the ball to a thoughtful, point-constructing and sliding force that no longer allows a bad stretch -- ala the one vs. Razzano -- to ruin her entire day.

Pretty much, she's just been content with ruining the day of nearly every opponent who crosses her path. On Saturday, that unlucky foe was Sharapova.

It's a known fact that it's a treacherous uphill battle -- against the wind, in a driving rainstorm and on a slippery slope -- for any player to even think about taking out Williams in a slam (or any) final, and it was especially going to be the case for the 26-year old Russian on this day. Since Sharapova knocked off Williams in the Wimbledon and WTA Championships finals in 2004, Serena has seemingly made an extra point to never re-live the troubling experiences again. Coming into the women's final, Williams had gone 12-0 against Sharapova since last losing to her. Generally, the ultimate decider in any final involving Serena is Serena herself. And, by now, Sharapova knows she's not going to be presented by Williams with the sort of "off" day that would allow her to be anything but at the top of her game all day long if she was going to have any chance at all to win. And in this final, even that wasn't likely going to make a dent in Serena.

That said, Sharapova got about as close -- on the scoreboard, though not really in the actual momentum of the match -- as she likely could have hoped heading into this day. Of course, that didn't mean there was any stopping the Serena onslaught.

Sharapova withstood Williams' pressure early in the 1st set, falling behind love/40 on serve in the first game of the match but managing to hold after saving four break points, most with big serving. She then got a quick break of Williams one game later to take a 2-0 lead. But when Sharapova began her second service game with a double-fault, it was clear that she wasn't going to be able to paralyze Serena with her own game as she did as a 17-year old. Williams upped her aggression and got the break back, then got another to go up 3-2. Serving with the wind at her back, Williams had a bit of trouble keeping her groundstrokes in the court in Game #8, leading to her giving the break back courtesy of a long forehand. But Sharapova wasn't able to take advantage of her fortune, losing a twenty-forehand rally in the next game as Serena went up 40/15 on the Russian's serve and broke again for a 5-4 lead with a forehand winner. Serving for the set, Williams offered only a short reply to Sharapova's shot into her body, but Maria netted her own response rather than putting away a winner. Soon, Williams was up 40/love and proceeded to close out the set on her second set point.

In the 2nd, Sharapova continued the destructive trend of immediately forcing herself to play from behind in nearly every service game -- not exactly the best tactic against Williams. She opened the set with a double-fault, ultimately saving five break points and holding serve, but when she again fell behind love/15 two games later it was the seventh straight service game in which she'd lost the opening point. Sharapova faced at least one break point in all but one of those games, including Game #3 of the 2nd. There, the importance of every point in a bid to upset Serena was highlighted when Sharapova smashed a seeming winner down the line, only to have it serve as simply a rally-continuing groundstroke as Williams ran down the ball and got it back, then saw Sharapova net a backhand to give Serena a break point. When the Russian sprayed a shot wide, Williams led 2-1.

In Game #5 of the 2nd set, Sharapova finally won the first point of a service game. She didn't face a break point and held for 3-2, as well. Still playing from behind after having fallen a break down, Sharapova held for 4-3 and 5-4. But it wasn't nearly enough to trouble Serena. Not even one bit, really, since Williams would ultimately lose just three points on serve in the entire set. Serving for the title at 5-4, Serena opened with an ace then later fired two more, back-to-back to end the match, and secured the victory. Tossing aside her racket and falling to her knees, Williams raised her arms in euphoric amazement over her return to the Roland Garros winner's circle, before burying her head in her hands on the terre battue. Serena was finally back where she belonged... she'd just arrived fashionably late for her belated Parisian soirée.

Much credit goes to Sharapova for her return to the final to defend her title, and for her avoiding the sort of soul-crushing (well, for everyone but Maria, who's rebounded pretty well) implosion that occurred when she was blitzed by Serena in a love 3rd set in Miami and 6-1 opening stanza in Madrid earlier this season. But sometimes, there's only so much a player can do. This was one of those times.

Of course, Maria knows all about taking something from Serena and then spending most of the next decade having her take it back, usually out of her hide, on a continual basis. And as Serena addressed the crowd on Chatrier in fluent French following the final, one had to wonder whether this tournament might get the "Sharapova treatment" from Williams over the next couple of years as she chases down the few all-time greats that remain ahead of her on the career slam title list, as well as a few Roland Garros crowns that might have "wrongfully" eluded her over the years.

Other than that, what's the next big goal for Serena? Only history knows for sure... and it'd be wise to have eyes in the back of its head if it knows what's good for it.

...just a few little bits of info as Serena heads into the grass and hard court seasons, where she swept the titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and WTA Championships last year. With her 31-match winning streak still intact, she's 91-4 since April 2012 and, remember, Serena Slam -- or should I say, "Serena Slam I?" -- began with a title in Paris eleven years ago.

At 31 years and eight months, Serena becomes the second-oldest RG women's champion ever, and the oldest in the Open era. With three slam titles after turning 30, Williams ties Martina Navratilova and Margaret Court with the most thirtysomething major wins. Her sixteenth slam singles crown moves her within two of tying Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time women's list. With a second Roland Garros title, Serena becomes the fifth woman to win each slam at least twice, and joins Navratilova with at least two wins in singles and doubles at all the slams.


after nary a significant mention of on-court noise during the entire Sharapova/Azarenka match the other day, during coverage of the women's final on NBC, Ted Robinson and Mary Carillo talked more about it two days later in a single game than ESPN2 commentators did during the entire broadcast day on Thursday. You know, when the Sharapova/Azarenka match actually took place.

...and finally, five other champions were crowned in Paris on Day 14. Bob & Mike Bryan, wrapping up a surprisingly dominant clay court season for the twins, won their record fourteenth slam crown, but their first at Roland Garros since 2003.

Belinda Bencic defeated Germany's Antonia Lottner in straights in the Girls final, becoming the first Swiss junior girls slam champ since Martina Hingis at Wimbledon in 1994, which is noteworthy since Bencic is coached by Hingis' mom and former coach, Melanie Molitor. Meanwhile, Chile's Christian Garin took out another German, Alexander Zverev, in two sets in the Boys final. The last Chilean boy to win a slam was Fernando Gonzalez in Paris in 1998.

Czech Maidens Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova took the Girls Doubles, while Kyle Edmund (GBR) and Frederico Ferreira Silva (POR) won the Boys.

#1 Serena Williams/USA def. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS 6-4/6-4

#3 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #4 David Ferrer/ESP

#1 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) vs. #4 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) def. Llodra/Mahut (FRA/FRA) 6-4/4-6/7-6

Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) def. #5 Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN) 1-6/6-4/10-6

#2 Belinda Bencic/SUI def. #5 Antonia Lottner/GER 6-1/6-3

Christian Garin/CHI def. #14 Alexander Zverev/GER 6-4/6-1

#2 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE) def. D.Gonzalez/Haddad Maia (ECU/BRA) 7-5/6-2

#3 Edmund/Ferreira Silva (GBR/POR) def. #5 Garin/Jarry (CHI/CHI) 6-3/6-3

Sabine Ellerbrock/GER def. #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED 6-3/3-6/6-1

#2 Stephane Houdet/FRA def. #1 Shingto Kunieda/JPN 7-5/5-7/7-6

#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) def. Ellerbrock/Walraven (GER/NED) 6-2/6-3

#1 Houdet/Kunieda (FRA/JPN) def. #2 Reid/Vink (GBR/NED) 3-6/6-4/10-6

24...Margaret Court
22...Steffi Graf
19...Helen Wills-Moody
18...Martina Navratilova
18...Chris Evert
12...Billie Jean King
12...Suzanne Lenglen

Margaret Court [11-5-3-5]
Chris Evert [2-7-3-6]
Martina Navratilova [3-2-9-4]
Steffi Graf [4-6-7-5]

33 - Suzi Kormoczy, 1958
31y,8m - SERENA WILLIAMS, 2013
31y,6m - Nelly Landry, 1948
31y,5m - Chris Evert, 1986

3...Martina Navratilova (2 at 30, 1 at 33)
3...Margaret Court (2 at 30, 1 at 31)
3...SERENA WILLIAMS (2 at 30, 1 at 31)
2...Billie Jean King (30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert (30 & 31)
1...Virginia Wade (31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones (30)

AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
WI: Serena Williams, USA
US: Serena Williams, USA
AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
RG: Serena Williams, USA

8...Venus Williams (6-2)
1...Victoria Azarenka (1-0)
1...Lindsay Davenport (1-0)
1...Justine Henin (1-0)
1...Martina Hingis (1-0)
1...Jelena Jankovic (1-0)
1...Agnieszka Radwanska (1-0)
1...Dinara Safina (1-0)
1...Vera Zvonareva (1-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (0-1)

2007 Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
2008 Simona Halep, ROU & Elena Bogdan, ROU
2009 Daria Gavrilova, RUS
2010 Elina Svitolina, UKR
2011 Monica Puig, PUR
2012 Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
2013 Belinda Bencic, SUI

[Men's Doubles]
2003 Bob Bryan & Mike Bryan
2004 Xavier Malisse & Olivier Rochus
2005 Jonas Bjorkman & Max Mirnyi
2006 Jonas Bjorkman & Max Mirnyi
2007 Mark Knowles & Daniel Nestor
2008 Pablo Cuevas & Luis Horna
2009 Lukas Dlouhy & Leander Paes
2010 Daniel Nestor & Nenad Zimonjic
2011 Max Mirnyi & Daniel Nestor
2012 Max Mirnyi & Daniel Nestor
2013 Bob Bryan & Mike Bryan
[Girl's Doubles]
1999 Flavia Pennetta & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2000 Maria Jose Martinez (Sanchez) & Anabel Medina (Garrigues), ESP/ESP
2001 Petra Cetkovska & Renata Voracova, CZE/CZE
2002 Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Barbora Strycova, GER/CZE
2003 Marta Fraga & Adriana Gonzales, ESP/ESP
2004 Katerina Bohmova & Michaella Krajicek, CZE/NED
2005 Victoria Azarenka & Agnes Szavay, BLR/HUN
2006 Sharon Fichman & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, CAN/RUS
2007 Ksenia Milevskaya & Urszula Radwanska, BLR/POL
2008 Polona Hercog & Jessica Moore, SLO/AUS
2009 Elena Bogdan & Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, ROU/THA
2010 Timea Babos & Sloane Stephens, HUN/USA
2011 Irina Khromacheva & Maryna Zanevska, RUS/UKR
2012 Daria Gavrilova & Irina Khromacheva, RUS/RUS
2013 Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE

AO: Ksenia Pervak, RUS
RG: Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
WI: Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA
US: Heather Watson, GBR
AO: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
RG: Elina Svitolina, UKR
WI: Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
US: Daria Gavrilova, RUS
AO: An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
RG: Ons Jabeur, TUN
WI: Ashleigh Barty, AUS
AO: Grace Min, USA
AO: Taylor Townsend, USA
RG: Annika Beck, GER
WI: Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
US: Samantha Crawford, USA
AO: Ana Konjuh, CRO
RG: Belinda Bencic, SUI

15...Serena Williams, USA
15...Venus Williams, USA
13...Leander Paes, IND
12...Mahesh Bhupathi, IND
11...Lisa Raymond, USA
10...Cara Black, ZIM
10...Daniel Nestor, CAN

11...Todd Woodbridge & Mark Woodforde
7...Peter Fleming & John McEnroe
7...John Newcombe & Tony Roche #
# - also won 5 pre-Open era titles

TOP QUALIFIER: Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: #24q Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE d. Alexandra Panova/RUS 1-6/7-5/10-8
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - #13 Marion Bartoli/FRA d. Olga Govortsova/BLR 7-6(8)/4-6/7-5
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - #1 Serena Williams/USA d. Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS 6-1/3-6/6-3
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): SF - #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS d. #3 Victoria Azarenka/BLR 6-1/2-6/6-4
FIRST VICTORY: #5 Sara Errani/ITA (def. Rus/NED)
FIRST SEED OUT: #11 Nadia Petrova/RUS (lost 1st Rd. to Puig/PUR)
UPSET QUEENS: Slovak Republic
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Czech Republic (2-8 in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Paula Ormaechea/ARG & Dinah Pfizenmaier/GER (both 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Virginie Razzano/FRA (3rd Rd.)
LAST PASTRIES STANDING: Marion Bartoli/FRA, Alize Cornet/FRA & Virignie Razzano/FRA (3rd Rd.)
IT "??": [post-Vergeer WC champ] Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
COMEBACK PLAYER: #18 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
CRASH & BURN: #10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (4 of 5 pre-4th Rd. slam exits since lost #1 ranking, before which had reached 4th Rd.-or-better 10 of 11 times)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #13 Marion Bartoli/FRA (1st Rd.: down a break 3 times in 1st & 2 MP in 3rd set; 2nd Rd.: down 4-1 in 1st & a break in 2nd set in 2nd Rd.)
JOIE DE VIVRE: #1 Serena Williams/USA
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Hradecka/CZE, Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: lost 1st Rd. to #6 Li Na, once again failing to reach a slam QF in her career (so Anna Smashnova still has a buddy)

All for Day 14. More tomorrow.


Blogger colt13 said...

Obviously, Serena does things nobody else does. Still the last player to win a slam without previously reaching the quarters at any-1999 US Open, this 11 year gap at a slam has to be one. When she had the 6 years between US Opens-2002-2008, much was made because most people win the same slam with 3 yr gaps or less. At the time the only longer gap was somebody who had played between 1910-1920. Truly to play at the top for an extended time makes her one of the greats.

Sat Jun 08, 08:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

I have a theory, Paris loves her back when she started speaking French.

Sat Jun 08, 08:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Colt -

Thing is, without all of her time-outs, breaks and injuries over the years one wonders if Serena would be anywhere near the player now that she is. In many ways, it saved her career (longevity-wise), making her path very similar to Agassi's, though he didn't win as much early or, or as often late as Williams has, and will likely continue to do.

Jo -

When I did that headline, I think I was more referring to the tournament "loving" her back because she finaly won it than the city or its inhabitants. But, yes, I, too, had the sense that she might be converting a few hearts and minds with that speech (and Patrick M., too).

Hmmm, maybe Vika should try that approach?

Sat Jun 08, 09:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Hi todd, I knew you meant she won. But I also think that because she tries to truly blend in this time and with patrick M at her side, she also feels more comfortable on the grounds of RG which helped her play. Thought it was the psychological effect to her game. A breakthrough of last 10 years. Well. My theory only.

Yes I thought of Vika too. Will indeed do her some good. But browsing the media these days I feel that some media are warming to her. Not making her a star but not harsh anymore. Ironically her 2 months away from matches made ppl realized that she is a great player and one to miss. ;)

Sun Jun 09, 03:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger TennisAce said...

The reason the media has taken to Vika a little more is because she has been sucking up to them, especially Neil Harman. He has been her media partner training her in how to handle the media. I am not sure how I feel about it but I guess her team felt that she needed to come across a little better in the public's eye. Frankly speaking I like my Vika with edge. I think we have enough Sharapova ingenue to last us a lifetime.

Right on to the match ... it was a great performance by both women. Sharapova needs to leave the fist pumps and come ons in the locker room, especially when she faces Serena. All it does is annoy Serena even more.

As for longevity, motivation can be a factor as well. As to time between winning titles, how about the fact that it has been 9 years since Pova won Wimbledon and that she has only been back to the final one time since then? She says that this year her focus is to win Wimby and the USO. Will be interesting to see if that happens.

The women's game is really making people sit up and take notice. The consistency of the top women is to be admired and the top female player is just a cut above everyone else.

Sun Jun 09, 09:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Yeah, so much of what Serena has done lately probably is linked to her more comfortable mindset. And likely not just at RG, either, but just with herself in general. And look at all the big titles it's led to. Makes you wonder just who might be in danger of being caught on that all-time slam list. Martina and Chris (18 each), surely. Wills-Moody (19), likely. But what about Graf (22) and Court (24)?


Hmmm, let's see...

"I like my Vika with edge"

--Yep, I agree... with bells on. ;)

". Sharapova needs to leave the fist pumps and come ons in the locker room, especially when she faces Serena. All it does is annoy Serena even more."

--Yep, I think I agree with that, too!

And, also, it IS great to see the top woman getting attention, and for reasons pertaining to their success on the court in major events rather than the lack of it, too.

Hmmm, although, I will say I can't quite understand how A-Rad's tweener shot didn't make NBC's Top 10 shots of the tournament (Schiavone's did). But I guess I'll consider the source. :)

Thanks for the comments. ;)

Sun Jun 09, 02:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Serena and Nadal are truly forces to be reckoned with!

About the fact that Serena might have gained a few fans by speakng French (and Spanish and Italian) over the last months, there is a psychological aspect to it that is underestimated. Players are programmed to always say (pretend?) that they LOVE [Insert red heart] every city they play in and that the crowd is so great. It's a nice touch, but for any fan, it's not long before one realizes that all players mysteriously love their city and inhabitants and that these same players coincidentally love ALL cities they play in. It's not long before the appearance of sincerity get swept away and, at some point, insincerity becomes disrespectful.

When Europeans reexamine their opinion of Serena because of her speaking French (and Spanish and Italian), it's thus not only a question that she's suddenly more "part of them" than before - Federer has always benefited from this aspect when playing in France, in comparison with Nadal, an "outsider" - but more importantly that when she claims that she loves the city and its inhabitants, the comment feels genuine and sincere. It reinforces the general feeling that Serena is now a much more mature player and human being, all for the best.

Psychologically speaking, being more in peace with herself allowed her to be more other-oriented. In the case of Henin, this internal peace de-focused her game. In the case of Serena, it focused her all the more.

Also, I know that many people, me included, are easily charmed by hearing people speak their mother tongue with an accent, and Serena's English accent when she spoke French and tried to find her words was really endearing!

Azarenka: Azarenka should really stay her good ol' Azarenka self. Apply the comment above on (in)sincerity mutatis mutandis. Maybe the media don't generally like her distinctive personality, but I have always been under the impression that fans do, precisely because she's not pretending.

Sun Jun 09, 03:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I'll add that I like my Azarenka with edge, too. For that matter, I like my 'Pova with edge, and she's still got it, despite her image.

Serena has been living in Paris (part-time) for a while, and prior to that, she was a frequent visitor. If anyone has earned a right to be "French," it's Serena. Suits her, too. I got lucky when I was in Charleston: I wanted to talk with her about her Parisian apartment, and she had just re-decorated it, so she was very enthusiastic about the subject. She said she had quite a way to go with her French-speaking skills, though :)

Sun Jun 09, 04:30:00 PM EDT  

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