Saturday 23 September 2017

Athletics: Age no barrier for Serena

Serena Williams, of the U.S, reacts as she defeats Russia's Maria Sharapova during the Women's final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Saturday, June 8, 2013 in Paris. Williams won 6-4, 6-4. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Serena Williams, of the U.S, reacts as she defeats Russia's Maria Sharapova during the Women's final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Saturday, June 8, 2013 in Paris. Williams won 6-4, 6-4. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Kevin Mitchell

Serena Williams, at 31, is reaching levels that even she probably did not contemplate in the dark hours of her health and injury malaise in recent years. It is not inconceivable that her clinical victory against Maria Sharapova yesterday, to add a second French Open title to her collection of 15 Grand Slam trophies, might prove to be the beginning of another remarkable phase of her career.

Only Steffi Graf, with 22 major titles, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (each with 18) are ahead of her on the open-era honours board of women's tennis, and there are no signs that the blood clot on her lung in 2010 that almost cost Williams her life has had any lingering effect on her health.

The fact that the 6-4 6-4 victory in an hour and 46 minutes was her 13th straight win against Sharapova does not demean the achievement. The world No 2 is one of only a handful of players capable of giving Williams a game, alongside Victoria Azarenka, who beat her in Doha, her last defeat in 2013.

In her excitement, the new champion might have meant to say in French during her victory speech either, "I can't believe it", or "it was incredible", but it came out, "I am incredible" – "Je suis incroyable". Actually, who could argue with any of that?

Later, Sharapova was philosophical. "She played a great match, strong, deep, served better than I did, and took her chances," she said.

She had the sort of start that confused her opponent as much as it did everyone else: saving three break points on her first serve, racing to a two-game lead, then dropping serve, cursed by the first of four double-faults, to go with 25 already in the tournament (more than anyone). Inside three-quarters of an hour, Williams was serving for the set, and Sharapova was entering familiar, painful territory.

Though fatigue is not a major factor in the women's game, the Russian came to the final having played 25 more games than Williams. On top of the memories of their previous dozen encounters, this did little for her equanimity.

Only after completing her victory did Williams let her emotions flow, sinking to her knees and drinking the applause of an appreciative rather than ecstatic crowd. The final was too prosaic to generate even mild hysteria, but there was no denying the measure of the accomplishment.

Irish Independent

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