June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Serena Williams dethroned defending champion Maria Sharapova to claim her first French Open title in more than a decade.
Williams beat the second-seeded Russian, 6-4, 6-4 on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris.
The 31-year-old American, the oldest woman’s champion since tennis turned professional in 1968, also won the title in 2002, when she beat her elder sister Venus Williams. Williams hasn’t lost to Sharapova since 2004, when the then 17-year-old beat her in the Wimbledon final and at the year-end WTA Championships. Since then, Williams has won all of their 13 matches.
“It was very difficult today, I was very nervous,” Williams said in a courtside interview in French. “But I won, and I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I now have 16 Grand Slam titles, I am so excited.”
Williams’ 16th Grand Slam singles title comes a year after her first opening-round defeat in a major to then 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in Paris. With the help of French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams has since only lost three matches and won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the WTA Championships and a singles and doubles gold medal at the London Olympics. Today’s victory extends her win streak to 31, the longest in her career.
“I played against a really tough champion today,” Sharapova said in a courtside interview. “She’s been playing so well today, and in fact for the whole year.”
Sharapova started aggressively, clenching her fist after every shot and shouting “Come on” after every winning rally. After saving four break points in the opening game, Sharapova broke for a 2-0 lead as Williams missed a few first serves.
Williams, who had been quiet during the first 15 minutes, showed her own emotions as she clawed the break back with a smash. Struggling with her ball toss in the swirling wind, Sharapova dropped serve to hand Williams a 3-2 lead.
Serving at 4-3, 30-30 Williams was broken again as Sharapova’s deep forehands drew two forehand errors. Unable to take advantage, the Russian dropped serve in the next game as the two women engaged in long baseline rallies. Williams served out the set as Sharapova sent a backhand wide.
In the opening game of the second set, Sharapova fended off five break points as her groundstrokes drew multiple errors. The Russian relented in her next service game, getting broken on a backhand wide. Williams then easily held to love for a 3-1 lead.
Williams took a 4-2 lead with her fifth ace, and then extended it 5-3 with her second love game of the set as she struck two more aces. Serving for the match at 5-4, Williams sunk to her knees after she won the match with her 10th ace.
Williams produced 29 winners, including 10 aces. Sharapova had 10 winners and 2 aces. Williams made 21 unforced errors, four more than her opponent.
Williams is now two major singles titles behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Margaret Court Smith holds the record with 24 major singles championships, while Steffi Graf won 22.
Today’s final was the first at Roland Garros between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players on the women’s tour since 1995. Williams had spent 6 hours and 47 minutes on court en route to the final, including a 46-minute semifinal against last year’s runner-up Sara Errani of Italy. She was tested in a three-set quarterfinal against former winner Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia.
Sharapova, 26, spent three hours longer on court on the way to the championship match. She was tested in the quarterfinals by former top-ranked Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, coming back from losing the first set 6-0 for the first time in her career.
The French Open’s slow, high-bouncing red clay surface has been the most difficult to crack for Williams because it neutralizes her powerful serve and groundstrokes and gives opponents more time to react. Having grown up on U.S. hard courts, in recent years she has adapted her game on clay by sliding into her shots more and playing more angles.
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