Monday, September 8, 2008

VIDEO:Serena Williams Wins US Open and Returns to No. 1

Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic, right, after the women’s singles title on Sunday night.


No world No. 1 in women’s tennis has slogged through so desolate a valley between peaks than Serena Williams. After relinquishing the top spot in August 2003, Williams fell so far that she wasn’t within echoing distance of the summit two years ago.

Outside the top 125 at this time in 2006, Williams completed her climb back to No. 1 Sunday night with a 6-4, 7-5 victory against Jelena Jankovic to claim her third United States Open title.

The 23-year-old Jankovic, who was appearing in her first final in her 21st Grand Slam event, fought gamely to the end, extending points with her dogged defense. Her nerves, which were indiscernible at the start, surfaced in the 20th game, serving at 5-4, when she squandered four set points.

“I gave her a lot of gifts when it was crucial,” Jankovic said, adding: “I had a lot of chances, so many set points, so many things to win that second set and go into a third. I let my opportunities go away.”

After breaking her with a forehand passing shot, Williams won 10 of the final 16 points to secure her ninth major singles championship. Williams converted her second match point with a backhand that fell as softly as a tissue, then she dropped her racket and hopped up and down. When at last she made it to the net, she apologized to Jankovic for getting so excited.

The second-ranked Jankovic, who was No. 1 for a week last month, might have lost the match but she won over the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd during the award presentation. She started off by thanking everyone and her drivers. While accepting the runner-up trophy, she said: “I lost my No. 1 ranking. It’s not fair.”

Then, as Williams was being presented with her $1.5 million check, Jankovic asked, “How much did I get?”

The answer, as she would soon find out, was $750,000. “So now I have a lot of money to spend,” she said, laughing, in her news conference. “Tomorrow is my day to go shopping.”

The match had tense rallies and dizzying momentum swings. Jankovic had 15 winners and 22 unforced errors. Williams finished with 44 winners, offsetting her 39 unforced errors. Emboldened by her Olympic gold medal in doubles with her older sister Venus, Williams came to the net 22 times in the second set and won 20 of the points.

It was little wonder that the match was high on drama. Williams is a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild, and Jankovic, who has battled a host of injuries from head to toe this year, has said she probably would have gone to school and studied theater if she hadn’t become a professional tennis player.

“I got the trophy here,” Jankovic said, “and I thought, you know, I should have gotten an Oscar for all this drama throughout the week. Despite, you know, getting a trophy, I should have gotten, you know, a trophy for the acting, for my drama. I think I’ve done a great job.”

No woman has gone so long between stints at the top as Williams, who came into the tournament ranked No. 3 and will overtake Ana Ivanovic, who lost in the second round. “I can’t believe I’m No. 1,” she said. “It’s been so long.”

Williams did not drop a set in the tournament and lost 40 games. It was a performance reminiscent of 2002, when she did not drop a set and beat Venus in the first women’s prime-time final.

As ecstatic as she was after match point, Williams made it clear in her news conference 90 minutes later that nine was not enough. “I’m pushing the doors to double digits, which I obviously want to get to,” she said, adding, “I feel like I can do it.”

Williams’s place in the pantheon of American luminaries was secure no matter what happened Sunday. That it had been five years since she held the No. 1 ranking did not preclude the two men behind the recent HBO documentary “The Color List” from including her in their portraits of 22 of the most fascinating and influential black Americans.

The 26-year-old Williams joined, among others, the Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and the former Secretary of State Colin Powell in pulling back the curtain to reveal the challenges and rewards of black life in the United States.

“I felt honored that they wanted me to speak on it and to be a part of it,” Williams said. “I was so excited to do it.”

Morrison talked about how writing was her only “free place,” an unfiltered outlet for her expression. The tennis court is that place for Williams, an entertainer inexorably drawn to the spotlight. Her flair for drama makes each of her matches an improvisational play in two or three acts.

While Morrison and Williams would appear to have much in common, Williams said she found Powell’s interview the most illuminating. “I was really struck by his story,” she said, “and everything he was saying.”

That is Williams in a sound bite, running around the obvious answer the way her opponents might a ball hit to their weak sides. In interview rooms, as on the court, Williams is famous for keeping her antagonists off balance.

When it comes to tennis, Williams has steadfastly adhered to her own script. Along with Venus, she began playing on public courts in Compton, a Southern California community that never will be confused with a tennis hotbed.

She was not a fixture on the junior circuit, and when she and Venus turned professional, as teenagers, they continued to take classes toward fashion degrees, and, in Serena’s case, to pursue acting roles.

In 1999, Serena won the Open for the first of 16 Williams family Grand Slam singles titles. From the beginning of 2002 through the end of 2003, Williams won five of the six majors she entered.

Then she went from nearly invincible to almost invisible. Between January 2005 and December 2006, she played 44 matches, five fewer than she has in 2008. Williams’s world ranking was inching toward 140 when Chris Evert, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, gently took Williams to task in an open letter in Tennis magazine for tarnishing her legacy by not maximizing her extraordinary tennis abilities.

“In the short term you may be happy with the various things going on in your life,” Evert wrote, “but I wonder whether 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not putting 100 percent of yourself into tennis.” Evert, whose singular devotion to tennis stoked her success, added, “I don’t see how acting and designing clothes can compare with the pride of being the best tennis player in the world.”

Evert watched the final Sunday in the suite of Arlen Kantarian, the United States Tennis Association’s chief executive officer for professional tennis. Before the match, Evert conceded that in the long term the Williamses had proved her wrong.

Noting that the former Nos. 1 Justine Henin, Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters bowed out of tennis because of burnout while the Williamses have been playing as well as ever, Evert said: “Let’s put it this way. It’s opened my eyes not to be judgmental and to each his own. Whatever makes you happy. By having other interests, maybe you won’t get burned out as quickly.”

Williams’s fire once again is burning bright. “I feel like I have a new career, like I feel so young and I feel so energized to play every week and to play every tournament,” she said. “I feel like there’s just so much that I can do in my career yet.”

Asked for a one-word description of this year, Williams replied, “Magical,” and explained, “It was everything coming together.”

Source: NyTimes.Com - SfGate.Com

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