From the beginning, it was obvious only one thing could prevent Serena Williams from winning this US Open title: Serena Williams.
Facing her first break point, she whistled a 114-mph ace. Five minutes into the match, when Caroline Wozniacki rolled in an 80-mph second serve, Serena hit a forehand so hard, so loud, the crowd at Arthur Ashe issued a collective gasp.
At one point, Serena had produced 24 winners — to Wozniacki’s one, and that was an ace.
When the match was over, the No. 10 seed had a single winner from the ground. It came on her best shot, a running backhand, at the 72nd minute and on the 111th point.
They might be good friends, but Serena was utterly ruthless in crushing Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3.
When the Dane’s last shot went long, Serena fell on her back along the baseline and laid there, heaving, for a good 15 seconds. She seemed overcome — to the extent that after hugging Wozniacki she failed to execute her signature 360-twirl and accompanying pageant waves.
After a substandard Slam season in which she failed to reach even the quarterfinals of the three previous events, the No. 1 seed earned her 18th Grand Slam singles title, tying her with legends Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert.
“It means a lot to me,” Serena said. “Who could ever imagine I’d be mentioned with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. I was just a kid from Compton with a dream and a racket.”
On the court, the two presented Serena with a gold bracelet to commemorate the occasion.
When she mentioned that it was her 18th, Serena’s voice cracked.
“I’m really emotional,” she said, tearing up. “I couldn’t ask to do it at a better place.
“Yeah it was a really wonderful feeling. It was a wonderful finish. I couldn’t have thought of any better way.”
After an embarrassing exit from the Wimbledon doubles tournament, Williams can say she had a stellar summer. Savor these numbers:
• $4 million in prize money, including the US Open Series bonus, for this event alone, after winning 19 of 20 hard-court matches.
• Three titles and 21 consecutive wins here, something that hasn’t happened since the middle 1970s when Evert was on her way to four straight championships.
• Six US Open titles, equaling Evert for the all-time lead.
“You played better than me,” Wozniacki told Serena in her on-court interview. “You’re an unbelievable champion, an unbelievable friend.
“You definitely owe drinks later.”
The funny thing? Serena turns 33 in less than three weeks. We don’t think of her as terribly old, but at 32 she is the second-oldest woman in the Open era to win a Grand Slam after Navratilova (1990 Wimbledon). The retired Andy Roddick, the last American man to win a Grand Slam — here, 11 years ago — was watching in the stands. He’s more than a year younger than Serena.
Serena, who won her first Grand Slam as a 17-year-old at the US Open, already had the longest span between winning Grand Slam singles titles. Now it’s an almost ridiculous 15 years.
For the second time in four years, the four Grand Slams have produced four different women’s champions. In addition to Serena, there was Li Na back in January at the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros and Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon.
Both players looked tight early on, but Serena had a vast edge in massive match experience, with 21 previous Grand Slam finals (17-4). Wozniacki, the 24-year-old from Denmark, had played only one, here five years ago.
The first six games saw five breaks of serve, but Serena calmed her nerves and finished Wozniacki off with some solid service games.
Years ago, Wozniacki was dubbed “The Golden Retriever” by the colorful Bud Collins, but after that domination, there were few onlookers who imagined she could run this one down. Serena, for the record, has won 75 of 76 matches at the US Open when she wins the first set.
Now, that’s a frontrunner.
“It was definitely on my shoulders,” Serena said. “It was like, ‘Get there, get there, get there.’
“It was eluding me for so long — three tournaments is a long time for me. I didn’t think I was going to win a Slam this year. I was embarrassed.
“Felt really good to win a Grand Slam, I don’t have to win another title. I’ll always have my little 18 bracelet.”
Thus, Wozniacki will have to wait until next year for another chance at her first major championship; with 22 titles, she is the winningest woman to never capture a Slam.
Serena, meanwhile, won 14 of 14 sets here and stamped herself as the woman to beat in 2015. After the match she paid tribute to Wozniacki, whom she said she texts nearly every day.
“She’s ready to win one of these,” Serena said. “Maybe in Australia, so I know I’ve got to go home and get fit again.”
by Greg Garber