By Simon Briggs
Legend: a beaming Serena Williams with the US Open trophy Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki may describe themselves as “besties”, but the world No. 1 had no compunction in crushing the challenger on Sunday to lift the US Open title.
Williams won a one-sided final 6-3, 6-3 to claim her 18th major title and move into a three-way tie on the all-time leaderboard alongside Chris Evert and Martina Navatilova, the two giants of the 1980s. New York has become Williams’s banker in recent years.
This was her third successive US Open title, since her unexpected defeat in the 2011 final against Australia’s Sam Stosur. And, like all the others, it raised a familiar question. If Williams is this good as she approaches her 33rd birthday, how many more biggies can she land?
Ahead of her are only the inter-war champion Helen Wills Moody (19), the elegant German Steffi Graf (22) and the Australian great Margaret Court (24). This weekend, we heard Williams’s former Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King suggest that Graf’s mark is very much within reach.
“How long can she go on for?” said King, in an interview with The Telegraph. “It’s down to whether she wants to pay the price or not. I played until 40. She hasn’t had major operations which is what I look at. She is a phenomenal athlete.
“She gets a lot of free points on her serve and that’s a major factor. Both Serena and Venus go in and out [in their commitment to tennis], because they have other interests, but lately they are in because they realise they are getting older and time is starting to run out.”
After what has been the most entertaining WTA season for some years, this was a disappointing contest, simply because Wozniacki lacked the firepower to make it competitive. Since Maria Sharapova outlasted Simona Halep in the second-longest French Open final in history, the year’s final two set-pieces both produced blowouts, with the previous instance being Petra Kvitova’s destruction of Eugenie Bouchard in the Wimbledon final.
Sunday’s match was always going to be a big ask for Wozniacki, who was playing only her second grand slam final after she lost to Kim Clijsters here five years ago. She is a scavenging sort of player who relies on shoe leather rather than weight of shot. Here, she really was reduced to feeding off scraps.
It used to be said of Wozniacki that she could go through a whole match without hitting a clean winner, yet still scramble enough balls back to win. This summer, she had made a few improvements to her game, souping up her serve and generally becoming more assertive. But most athletes are prone to reverting to type under pressure, and this match â€“ played against arguably the best player in history in front of a 20,000-strong crowd â€“ was the definition of pressure.
In the first set, Williams was uncharacteristically profligate with her serve, landing the first delivery only 41 per cent of the time and committing a couple of rare double-faults. But while this allowed Wozniacki to score two breaks of serve and stay in some sort of touch, the rallies off the ground were hopelessly one-sided. The only points Williams lost were the ones she gifted with occasionally wild errors.
Wearing the leopard-print dress that she has used all tournament, Williams was indeed the predator on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and she began to play with more freedom and accuracy in the second set. At the end of the match, clean winners made up almost half of her points (29 from 65). For Wozniacki, by contrast, there were only four successful shots that her opponent could not get a racket to, and three of those were aces.
“Congratulations Serena,” said Wozniacki afterwards. “You’re an unbelievable champion and an inspiration to me on and off the court. You’re an unbelievable friend and you definitely owe me drinks later.”
Perhaps we should have expected a Williams victory from the very beginning of the tournament. The last time she played all four majors in a season and failed to win at least one of them was all the way back in 2001, when she was 19 years old. She was due; the only surprise is that she had not managed to impose herself on any of the year’s three previous slams, going out before the quarter-finals on each occasion.
Was the prospect of catching Evert and Navratilova a daunting one?
Certainly Williams has been touchy all year about discussing the prospect of an 18th major. And you have to wonder whether, if she had happened to get there at the first time of asking in Australia, her season might have progressed more smoothly.
As it was, it has been a turbulent nine months, featuring rumours about cracks in her relationship with coach -“ and boyfriend? – Patrick Mouratoglou, and then that bizarrely uncoordinated display during her doubles match at Wimbledon, which was later blamed on a virus.
But Williams has finished the season strongly, and here she collected the biggest cheque in the history of the game – a $4m (£2.3m) payout that also takes in the bonus she earned for dominating the American hard-court build-up to this tournament. Her aura is very much intact.
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