Serena Williams, 32 in September, is reaching levels that even she probably did not contemplate in the dark hours of her health and injury malaise in recent years. It is not inconceivable that her straight-sets victory over Maria Sharapova on Saturday to add a second French Open title to her collection of 15 grand slam trophies may prove to be the beginning of another remarkable phase of her career.
And that is an opinion that comes from an impeccable source, an American whose first-round exit here last year shocked tennis. “I really enjoy every moment that I’m out there,” Williams said. “I always said that I felt like I have never played my best tennis. I have said that for years, that I feel like I can do better. I definitely want to go out at my peak. That’s my goal. But have I peaked yet? And losing in the first round last year definitely helped me realise I have no points to defend, nothing to lose. Honestly, I just was more relaxed this time.”
Only Steffi Graf, with 22 major titles, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (each with 18) are ahead of her on the open era honours board of women’s tennis, and there are no signs that the blood clot on her lung in 2010 that almost cost Williams her life has had any lingering effect on her health.
The fact that the 6-4, 6-4 victory in an hour and 46 minutes was her 13th straight win over Sharapova in nine years does not demean the achievement. The world No2 is one of only a handful of players capable of giving Williams a game, alongside Victoria Azarenka, who beat her in Doha, her last defeat in 2013, and who took a set off Sharapova in the semi-finals. In her excitement, the new champion might have meant to say in French during her brief victory speech on court either “I can’t believe it”, or “it was incredible”, but it came out: “I am incredible” — “Je suis incroyable”. Actually, who could argue with any of that?