Top-seeded Williams beat No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 to secure her second French Open title, 11 years to the day after she beat her older sister Venus to win her first in 2002.
“Eleven years,” Williams said in French during the trophy ceremony. “I think it’s unbelievable. Now I have 16 Grand Slam titles. It’s difficult for me to speak because I’m so excited.”
The national anthem of the USA, played for the winner, was heard for the first time for a singles champ at Roland Garros since 2002, Williams’ last title here.
A year after crashing out of the French Open’s opening round for the first time in her career, Williams returned to play one of her best wire-to-wire tournaments.
She dropped 29 games, matching her best Grand Slam effort (she also dropped 29 games on her way to the 2002 U.S. Open title).
The 31-year-old American is sixth on the all-time Grand slam singles list, two majors behind Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Fist pumping and screaming “C’mon!” almost from the get-go, Sharapova survived a 0-40 deficit in the opening game and then broke Williams for 2-0.
But the 26-year-old failed to convert two game points on her serve the next game, and Williams — invoking some vocal histrionics and menacing fist pumps of her own — broke back.
Sharapova didn’t fade, breaking Williams again for 4-4, but the American had too much firepower. Her baseline drives were deeper. Her serves were more accurate. Her defense was better.
“She played a great match,” Sharapova said. “She played strong, she played deep, served really good; served better than I did.”
Williams had 10 aces, including three in the final game, the last and biggest one (123 mph) came on match point.
“Well, honestly, at that point I was just so nervous,” Williams said about those three final-game aces. “I thought, I’m not going to be able to hit groundstrokes.”
“No joke,” she said, to laughter. “As you see the one groundstroke I did hit went like 100 feet out. I thought to myself, ‘Look, Serena, you’ve just got to hit aces. That’s your only choice.’ ”
Sharapova suggested she was not surprised that Williams was able to deliver big serves when she needed them.
“Obviously it’s a little bit of confidence but also … we know she’s going to be able to hit a big serve,” Sharapova said. “I think if I was built like Serena I hope I’d be able to hit a big serve like that, too. ”
Williams’ celebration at the end looked much like a first-time-major champion: sinking to her knees, burying her face in the clay, then her hands, and flashing big, bright, wide smiles throughout the trophy ceremony.
Since her first-round exit here a year ago, Williams has captured three of the last four majors and a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Williams charmed crowds with her on-court interviews in the native tongue, something she said she had prepared for 12 months ago.
“I love Paris,” Williams said. “I spend a lot of time here. I live here. I practice here. I think I am a Parisian.”
Williams also congratulated Sharapova during the ceremony.
“She played a beautiful final,” Williams said in French. “She’s a great champion. I hope to be with her again next year.”
“Merci beaucoup,” Sharapova responded with a laugh.
Sharapova, the defending French Open champion, dropped to 2-14 vs. Williams, including 13 in a row and four defeats this season.
“I think she played probably the best she’s played me,” Williams said of Sharapova. “I think she really wanted it. I think she came out with a real plan, and she was really determined.”
Sharapova, who admitted before the final that her struggles against Williams do weigh on her, said after the match that she tried her best and will move forward from here.
“You have to move forward,” Sharapova said. “And it doesn’t matter, you know, how many times I have lost to a player or what situation I was in, whether I was up or down, how it ended or how it finished.
“You move on. Of course I thought I earned my position to be in the final. I did put up a fight obviously today against her; it was not enough.”
When asked if she can take positives from the match, or simply walk away disappointed, Sharapova suggested it’s not that simple.
“I don’t think that’s black and white,” Sharapova said. “It’s a combination, obviously. Yeah, you lost and you can be really down about it. And I am because I’m a competitor and I’m a fighter and I don’t train to lose. Nobody does. So of course I’m disappointed about that.
“But that’s the feeling that ultimately will make you work harder and make you think a little bit. Gives you more determination. So, yeah, I hope that that’s what I take away from the match.”
Williams is 16-4 in Grand Slam finals. Sharapova, the only other active player to complete a career Grand Slam, fell to 4-4.
Williams improved to 43-2 this year, and is on a career-best 31-match winning streak. She wrapped up the clay season unbeaten, including 23-0.
With this victory, Williams eclipsed seven-time champion Evert as oldest Roland Garros winner in the Open era (31 years, 256 days).
Getting better with age?
“I really believe age is a number at this point, because I have never felt so fit,” Williams said. “I feel great. I look great.”
How much longer can she keep this going?
“I want to go out in my peak,” she said. “That’s my goal. But have I peaked yet?”
Now comes the switch to grass, and she’ll be a heavy favorite to win Wimbledon for the sixth time.