x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Serena Williams adds a French twist to tennis power game

Ahmed Rizvi explains how, at the age of 32, Serena Williams is the oldest woman to win the French Open and how her ageless tennis career is also about amazing athleticism within the sport.

Serena Williams celebrates her French Open final victory over Maria Sharapova on Saturday. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Serena Williams celebrates her French Open final victory over Maria Sharapova on Saturday. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Serena Williams's power game is truly breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. It is the reason why she is often described as a pugilist on court – a Mike Tyson pummelling the Michael Spinks on the other side of the net.

But as you admire her power-hitting, it is easy to overlook her incredible athleticism and amazing defence. Against an opponent like Maria Sharapova, on par with Williams in the mean-hitting and aggression scales, those two aspects of the American's game get a bit more recognition.

And it, perhaps, is the reason why Sharapova has failed to beat Williams since the 2004 Wimbledon final. Her 6-4, 6-4 defeat in the French Open final on Saturday means she has now lost 13 successive matches to her great rival.

Many of the shots she hit Saturday would have been winners against any other opponent, but Williams always seemed to have an answer, returning her best strokes back, much to the frustration of her Russian adversary.

One point illustrated that perfectly.

In the third game of the second set, Sharapova hit a monstrous forehand down the line on Williams's backhand, but the world No 1 – stretching and sliding – somehow managed to flick it back into play.

A surprised – or rather shocked – Sharapova erred on her next shot and point, and dropped her serve.

That break was enough for Williams to take the set, and match, closing with an ace down the line on championship point.

She immediately sank to her knees, clutching her face and looking around with frenetic eyes. That was the first time she had looked unsure the whole evening. But once the moment sank in, Williams was her bouncy self again, skipping along like a teenager to receive the trophy.

And, 111 days shy of her 32nd birthday, she became the oldest woman to lift the French Open in the Open era.

Who would have known that, looking at the way she moved on court. Age, truly, is just a number for her. Williams is playing as well, if not better, than at any point in her 17-year career. She has won three of the past four grand slams, and her first French Open title since 2002.

The demanding red clay of Roland Garros is not a place for old men, or women, and Williams had not made it beyond the quarter-finals in her past six visits to Paris. But this time, she was looking for redemption after her first-round defeat to Virginie Razzano last year.

And she got it Saturday. Nobody had expected a different result, though.

Williams was the overwhelming favourite, and not just for her lopsided record against Sharapova. Since her defeat to Razzano 12 months ago, she has been on a different plain, winning 73 of her 76 matches going into the final. And now, she has stretched her career-best winning streak to 31 matches.

"I played a great tournament, but I ran into a great champion today so congratulations to her," said Sharapova, who probably played some of her best tennis against Williams in recent times, but still came up short.

Williams, a great champion, and the 16-time grand slam winner is only getting better with age.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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