Roland Garros: S. Williams d. Sharapova
Two days ago, in previewing the women’s final between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, I wondered whether we would see a competition or a coronation. It turned out that we saw both. Sharapova, who hasn’t beaten Serena in nearly 10 years, held her own and made this one a match from start to finish. But in the end it was Serena who, as expected, hoisted her second Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, 11 years to the day after her first, with a 6-4, 6-4 win.
Sharapova said she had to do something different against Serena. What it appeared to be was to try to hit the ball within a couple of inches of the baseline on every shot. Depth was what Maria was looking for, precision depth—that’s what it was going to take to compete with Serena. To her credit, Sharapova pulled it off for much of the day, and never backed down or crumbled when it stopped working. She started fast, breaking Williams in the second game. Maria's grunt was longer and louder than normal, and she punctuated every point won with a “Come on!” When she went up 40-15 at 2-0, it looked like Sharapova might finally be a threat to her nemesis. On the next point, though, Serena decided to show her that she wasn't going to get there today. She smacked a forehand with an extra-edgy grunt of her own and fired herself up with a fist-pump—”I’m over the slow-start thing,” was the not-so-subtle message to herself. And she was. Serena came back to break serve and never trailed again.
Serena won the way she usually wins: With her incomparable serve. She hit 10 aces, including two in the final game, and lost just three points with it in the second set. Sharapova couldn’t match that; she made just 55 percent of her first serves, and faced 15 break points. But she did her best to stave off the inevitable. Maria saved four break points in the first game of the match, and five more in the first game of the second set. While she never led after the opening two games, she never let the match get away from her, either.
The serve is always a difference-maker for Serena against Maria, and so is her speed. As well as Sharapova hit the ball, and as deep as she placed it, she still finished with just 10 winners against 17 errors. Serena showed off the footwork and balance that has made her so much tougher on clay the last two years. Most important, she avoided the panic that had set in against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals. Serena still seemed to expect to win every point—she celebrated her winners by scolding herself for not hitting them earlier—but she didn’t let losing a few bother her. Much like the Olympic gold medal match last year, Serena was not only hellbent on beating her opponent, but hellbent on not beating herself. She was forceful, but always under control. That’s what happens when you know you have the best serve in the game to back you up.
Serena celebrated, and was crowned, at Roland Garros again—it was nice to see her show all of that joy off in a new location. In a sense, this completes a second career Slam for the 31-year old, and makes it clear that she’s the best everywhere, on every court and surface. She has lived and trained in Paris for a few years now. Today she owns it.