Serena Williams rescued her season with a lopsided victory over Caroline Wozniacki to win her 18th grand slam title in a final that flirted with towering mediocrity, was restored to passable competence and finished with merciful speed in a dribble of errors.
On a day of records, major and minor, the 32-year-old American ended what for her constituted a drought – a year without a major – winning 6-3, 6-3 in an hour and a quarter. She stands alongside Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova now, and four behind Steffi Graf as major winners in the Open era, but still trailing Helen Wills Moody (19) and Margaret Court (24) in the history of the game.
The last time she played in all four majors and went winless she was 19 years old. This was a good save, at least – but it might have been the poorest contest of the tournament. It is a wonder the net did not collapse, so many times was it bashed. There is no papering over the cruel statistics. Wozniacki, the former world No1 seeded 10th here and still to win a grand slam title at 24, held her serve only three times – each with the help of aces. Her second serve, except for the three times it hit the netting, travelled over it as slowly as 77 miles an hour. She hit a solitary winner off the ground, a backhand in the 73rd minute for 15-all and 3-5 in the second set, with the guillotine hanging over her head. Two minutes later it was over.
It was not nice to watch and cannot have been much fun to execute. With her parents watching and a good percentage of the gathering on Arthur Ashe Court no doubt hoping victory would be a balm to the spiritual wounds she suffered when Rory McIlroy ended her first love affair, the 24-year-old Dane seemed weighed down by sentiment and expectation.
“You’re an unbelievable friend and definitely owed drinks later,” Wozniacki told her conqueror, who has been so supportive of her after her break-up, a gesture reciprocated when Williams also suffered a mysterious dip in spirit during the summer, highlighted when she collapsed during a doubles match at Wimbledon.
“It was a wonderful finish [to the slam season],” a sobbing Williams said courtside. “Of all the struggles we’ve been through, we’ve texted each other nearly every day.”
It was the third year in a row here that the final entertained two players who have been ranked the best on their Tour, although you would not have guessed so had you arrived from Mars and witnessed opening exchanges that were more like botched handshakes than blows of mean intent.
Williams is a wonderful player, one of the best in the history of the game, but, when Usain Bolt told her this week she was no sprinter, he was not joking. Steamrollers move faster, a fitting metaphor for her progress in the fortnight as she flattened six opponents, two of them seeded, who could muster only 32 games against her power and precision. They detained her barely six and a half hours. Wozniacki did little better in the one match that mattered.
What was doubly disappointing for the loser was that she came to the final on a roll with every expectation of giving Williams a contest. But, when two friends go to war, the result can be about as intense as a pillow fight before lights out in the dorm. There were five straight breaks of serve in the first set as they turned one of the game’s most dramatic settings into a demilitarised zone, the balls whistling everywhere but the places they would do most damage.
Williams, who hit 23 unforced errors and three double faults overall, began without caution, Wozniacki with too much of it – and it was 20 minutes before the first double-digit rally. When Wozniacki’s right arm finally warmed up, it was too late and the first set was gone.
The second set was marginally more competitive yet it had the unmistakable air of a slow walk towards a disappearing target, the last of Wozniacki’s 15 unforced errors floating long. The applause was that of relief as much as celebration.
Earlier the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike (or was it Mike and Bob?), reached another career landmark and with somewhat more elan than that on show in the women’s final. The 36-year-old Americans won their 100th doubles title, their 16th in a major and fifth in their home tournament by beating the Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Marc López 6-3, 6-4.
In the girls’ final the unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova was a debutant winner for her country when she took just over two hours to beat Ukraine’s ninth seed Anhelina Kalinina 6-4, 7-6, in the 40th edition of this championship.
The unseeded Australian Omar Jasika came from a set and 4-2 down to beat France’s fifth seed Quentin Halys 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the boys final. Jasika, although not big, is one to watch.
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