Serena Williams added another feather to an already well-adorned hat on Saturday with a three-set victory over Czech Lucia Safarova in the French Open final. In truth, she added quite a few new feathers, winning a 21st straight Grand Slam match, becoming the oldest winner at Roland-Garros since 1958, and adding a third French Open title to a grand slam collection that now numbers 20 and firmly cements her place as one of the all-time greats.
Williams, 33, now trails only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Steffi Graf, 22 — on the list of Grand Slam winners, but this was one victory that didn’t come easy. Battling illness for the 48 hours prior to the final, Williams — who had to skip training on Friday — also had to overcome a mid-game dip before seeing off 13th-seed Safarova 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.
She had started the final in fine form, quickly taking the first set and then racing into a 4-1 lead in the second. But then came the slump — back to back double faults and unforced errors — and Safarova, who had seen off former champions Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic to reach her first Grand Slam final, took the opportunity and clawed her way back to take the set in a tie-breaker.
Williams would not be denied though, and she regained her composure to put the match away after taking the last six games of the third set.
Serena Williams wins her 20th Grand Slam! It's her 3rd French Open title and 3rd consecutive Grand Slam title. pic.twitter.com/7SbnxotdvR
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 6, 2015
After dropping the first set in four of her previous six matches at this competition, including Thursday’s semi-final against Timea Bascinzky, this was just another example of Williams’ legendary fighting spirit, and the fact that she’s battled illness throughout this competition, and wasn’t even sure she would be able to play in the final, only makes this more special.
According to Racing and Sports, Williams ranks only her Wimbledon win in 2012, when she returned to the court after severe illness, higher than this.
“I still have to say Wimbledon is higher in 2012 because I really didn’t think I could win another grand slam. But this is pretty high because I was out in so many matches; down a set, down a break, and I just kept coming back, kept fighting.”
Williams now holds the last three Grand Slam titles, having also won last year’s U.S. Open and the Australian Open earlier this year, and on current form — she boasts a 32-1 win-loss record in 2015 — she could very well match Graf’s 22 Grand Slam wins before the year is out. That would also give her a calendar year Grand Slam — holding all four majors in the same year — something that’s only been achieved by three women (Maureen Connolly Brinker, Court, and Graf), the last one coming in 1988.
If that happens, 16 long years after she won her first Grand Slam, would there even be any question that Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player in the history of the game?
[Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images]