PARIS, France (Sports Network) – Serena Williams is again the French Open champion, winning the title for the second time with a straight-set victory over defending champion Maria Sharapova in Saturday’s final.
The top-seeded Williams battled past a gritty Sharapova in a 6-4, 6-4 decision on Court Chatrier, giving the American star her 16th Grand Slam championship and first at Roland Garros since 2002.
“Since then, there were definitely a few years I felt like I could have won and I didn’t,” said Williams. “And I think it was mostly on my racquet and my fault that I didn’t win. But I’m still here and still fighting and doing the best that I can for each of my matches.”
Williams extended her career-best winning streak to 31 matches and is 23-0 on clay this year, but it wasn’t easy against a determined Sharapova, who last year completed a career Grand Slam with her triumph over Sara Errani on the final Saturday in Paris.
Sharapova broke serve twice in the opening set on this particular Saturday and continually saved break point after break point against her own serve, but ultimately lost to Williams for the 13th straight time. Four of those setbacks have come this year and the Russian star fell to 2-14 lifetime against Williams.
“I played a great tournament and ran into a great champion today,” said Sharapova, who on Saturday saved 11-of-15 break points overall.
Williams also beat Sharapova for titles this year in Madrid and Miami, in addition to a semifinal win in Doha. Saturday’s victory gave Williams a 4-1 mark in their Grand Slam matchups. The lone Sharapova win came in the 2004 Wimbledon finale.
Sharapova was virtually no match for Williams a month ago in the Madrid final, dropping a 6-1, 6-4 decision. Saturday’s match, though, was more like Miami, when Williams had to rally for a three-set win.
After Williams won the first three points of Saturday’s match with ease against the Sharapova serve, the Russian battled back. She saved each of those three break points, the last with an ace, and fought off another break point before one more big serve gave her the opening game.
Sharapova then quickly broke serve and had two game points for a 3-0 lead, but could not capitalize.
“Well, 2-0, 40-15,” said Sharapova about her chance to take control early. “I know I’m nitpicking here, but these are moments against her that I feel that I should be able to take.”
Williams fought back and broke serve with an overhead, then held to even the set and broke again for a 3-2 edge after first squandering a pair of chances. She held again before Sharapova stopped the Williams run with an easy hold.
Sharapova then came up with a gutsy break for a 4-4 tie when Williams blasted a forehand long, but the American came right back and broke serve with a forehand winner.
Williams won the first three points of the next game, but Sharapova saved one set point with a forehand winner. She had no answer on the next point, which Williams controlled with a heavy serve that led to a wide Sharapova backhand pass to end the set.
Much like the opening game of the match, Sharapova was forced to save five break-point chances against her serve to start the second set and finally held with a forehand winner.
Williams, though, never faced a break point in the second set and always appeared to have Sharapova on her heels during the Russian’s service games. Sharapova lost the first point in each of her first seven service games and faced at least one break point in six of the first seven.
A break of Sharapova’s serve in the third game gave Williams a 2-1 lead and she never relinquished the advantage. A hold at love made it 5-3 and her 10th ace closed out the nearly two-hour match.
Williams’ victory completed a full turnaround from last year, when she was stunned in the first round at Roland Garros by Virginie Razzano. It was her first-ever loss in the first round of a Grand Slam event.
Since that setback, though, Williams has a match record of 74-3 with major titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, as well as Olympic gold. She is now 16-4 all-time in Grand Slam finals and owns 52 career titles.
“I was more relaxed this time going in,” said Williams about coming into this year’s tournament after last year’s loss. “I played so well leading up to the French Open but I didn’t put any pressure on myself. Losing in the first round (last year) definitely helped me realize I have no points to defend. I have nothing to lose. I can just relax and do what I want to do here.”
Sharapova fell to 29-22 in title matches, including 4-4 in Grand Slams. She was trying to become the first repeat winner at Roland Garros since Justine Henin won three in a row from 2005-07.
“I think getting to the Roland Garros final is not too shabby, so I’d say that’s a positive,” added Sharapova. “Coming back as a defending champion is never easy, so I’m happy that I was able to produce good tennis within these last two weeks and come to that stage.”
Saturday’s final marked the first matchup of the two top-ranked women at a French final in 18 years.
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