Sep 9, 2014

Serena Williams beats Caroline Wozniacki for Open title

NEW YORK – Serena Williams was 17 and still in beads when she surprised the public and even her own family when she won the 1999 U.S. Open against Martina Hingis.

Her 6-3, 6-3 defeat Sunday of good pal Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday's U.S. Open final — her sixth in New York and third consecutive — comes 15 years later, the longest span between Grand Slam titles in history.

That sustained arc of excellence may one day stand out more than the 32-year-old's number of major championships, her vaunted serve or competitive (and sometimes polarizing) ferocity.

"I'm sure you have your ups and downs, and every time she's so competitive," said five-time Grand Slam champion Hingis, who is one year older than Williams and reached the women's doubles final. "I mean there's no words. I mean Serena is Serena. Geez. Wow."

In a season where eight different women reached Grand Slam finals, Williams cemented her status as the top player. But it took the biggest stage and home turf for Williams to win her first major of 2014.


Shaking off some early nerves on 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, No. 1 Williams cruised past 10th seeded Wozniacki in 75 minutes to win her 18th career major singles crown, tying her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in fourth place on the all-time leader board.

It also made Williams the second oldest major female winner in the post-1968 Open era behind Navratilova, who was 33 when she won Wimbledon in 1990. Williams — already the oldest No. 1 since computer rankings were introduced in 1975 — turns that age on Sept. 26.

"It is a pleasure to win my first Grand Slam here and number 18," said a teary Williams during the trophy ceremony in which Navratilova and Evert joined her on court. "I'm really emotional. I couldn't ask to do it at a better place."

For much of the year it looked like she might remain stuck on 17 majors and go Slam-less for the first time since 2001 when competing in all four.

In 2013, Williams had one of her best seasons. She hit career highs in titles (11) and match wins (78), including major championships at the French Open and U.S. Open. But she arrived in New York two weeks ago having failed to advance past the fourth round at any Slam since.

Her up-and-down year took a bizarre turn two days after losing in the third round at Wimbledon when she stumbled around a doubles match before defaulting with what tournament officials called a viral illness.

But nothing is as predicable as a re-charged Williams with something to prove.

She hit the North American hardcourt swing ready to shoot down the naysayers and reel in more history. In July, she scratched her way to the title at Stanford, winning despite subpar play. She regained some needed confidence.

"I'm sure if that tournament would have turned out differently who knows how the season would have went," said her longtime hitting partner, Sascha Bajin on Sunday. "It kind of set the stone rolling."

The next week, Williams started to find her form in Montreal where she lost in the semifinals to older sister Venus Williams, and then hit her stride with another title in Cincinnati a week later.

She is now 19-1 since Wimbledon, and didn't drop a set in seven matches in New York.

"I have been trying to reach it for so long, since last year," said Williams of her latest trophy. "I didn't really think would I get there. I just felt so good."

After her very public breakup with No. 1 golfer Rory McIlroy days before the French Open in May, Wozniacki has orchestrated a strong comeback of her own.

She has gone 25-6 since, won a title at Istanbul, and will return to the top 10 when next week's rankings come out.

"It definitely gives me a lot of belief for the end of the year and for next year," said Wozniacki, 24.

Williams will remain, as she has since February of last year, at No. 1.

Navratilova said Sunday that Williams could challenge Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 majors or Margaret Smith Court's all-time mark of 24 despite her advancing age.

Due to a lighter schedule and some time off from injuries and illnesses, she has played far fewer matches than Navratilova at the same age. "She hasn't played as many matches and she's really eager," said Navratilova. "She's sees how working hard really pays off."

As long as she stays motivated and healthy, "the sky's the limit," said Navratilova.

Williams said she was already thinking about No. 19 and vowed not to get complacent.

"I have said this before: I don't want to become that," she said. "I want to continue to rise and continue to play really hard and do the best that I can."

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