PARIS: Serena Williams won her 20th Grand Slam title and third French Open crown at Roland Garros on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), clawing her way back from a break down in the last set to defeat Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2.
In what was a disjointed affair, the 33-year-old American was coasting to a straight-sets win, a set and 4-1 up against the Czech 13th seed, playing in her first Grand Slam final at the age of 28.
But a combination of serving woes for Williams and some top play from Safarova forced a third set, the fifth of the tournament for the American.
She fell 0-2 down in that, but recovered her composure in the nick of time to rattle off six games in a row for the title.
With 20 Grand Slam titles Williams is now second on the Open-era list, two shy of Steffi Graf. She is also now halfway to winning all four Grand Slam titles, in the same year, a feat previously achieved by just three other women, the last being Graf in 1988.
For Safarova, who reached the final without dropping a set, the consolation will be her debut in the world top 10, at number seven. And she has the women’s doubles final to follow on Sunday, playing with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
“I played very well and she was a magnificent opponent for me,” Williams said.
“She was very aggressive and I was a bit nervous at a set and a break up.
“It’s special for me because I don’t play well all the time here (in Paris), but I am so pleased to win my 20th Grand Slam here.”
Safarova said she was proud of the way she had fought back in the second set after it seemed she was heading for a heavy defeat.
“Serena was really strong out there. I just pushed myself to step up the level,” she said.
“But when she won the serve on 2-1 (in the last set) she just stepped up her tennis again. She did some great shots to break me and started to play really strong. She was just playing better than me.”
Williams had struggled with a bout of the flu throughout the tournament’s second week, needing four times to fight back from a set down just to reach the final.
But after two days of “rest and therapy” in her Paris apartment she came out looking somewhat refreshed if more subdued than usual as she stared fixedly at the ground between points.