This was without a doubt the biggest accomplishment of Serena’s storied career.
This was bigger than her five Australian Open titles, five Wimbledon titles or four U.S. Open titles. Bigger than her 13 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister or her four Olympic gold medals. Bigger than her 51 other titles or three WTA Championship trophies.
This was bigger than all of them, because she went 11 years in between French Open titles. Eleven years.
Last time she won the French Open she was 20 years old and only had one Grand Slam title to her name. Jennifer Capriati was the No. 1 player in the world. Monica Seles was still playing tennis. Roger Federer was just another hot-head underachiever on the men’s tour.
It was another era.
In the 11 years since, Serena has, at times, been on top of the world. She captured 13 more Grand Slams and became the No. 1 player in the world. She has reinvented women’s tennis with her ruthless power and has become one of the most famous athletes on the planet.
In the last 11 years, she’s become a legend.
But she has seen a lot of lows as well. In 2003, her older sister, Yetunde Price, was shot and killed in Compton, where the Williams family grew up. In 2011, Serena suffered a hematoma and a pulmonary embolism, and had to spend time in the hospital. She thought she might never play tennis again.
In between those two tragedies there have been enough injuries, comebacks and gut-wrenching losses to last a lifetime.
The French Open is where most of her struggles have manifested. It’s where she’s experienced her toughest losses. It’s where she's been a part of the most controversy and heartache.
While she’s always been able to find her footing and revitalize her career at the other Grand Slam tournaments, Roland Garros has brought her pummeling back down to earth time and time again. It’s the one place that she could never seem to find that extra gear that sets her apart from the pack.
The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg noted just how amazing this year has been for Serena:
In the last decade on the red clay, she was always more ordinary than extraordinary.
For most people, grass and hard-court dominance would be enough. It would be enough to have that one French Open title, to have the career slam and to be a bona fide star. Most people, even the greatest athletes, would have left things at that.
Serena Williams is not most people. Ever since her first-round loss to Virginie Razzano last year, she’s been on a mission. She got a new coach, re-dedicated herself to fitness and played her heart out on tour week-in and week-out. She got back to the top of the game in jaw-dropping fashion.
This year she turned her worst surface into her stomping grounds at an age when most tennis players are thinking more about retirement than reinvention.
This is the biggest win of Serena's career because she had to work the hardest for it. She had to beat her own demons. She had to take matters into her own hands.
Sharapova played a great match in the final, but Serena was not going to be stopped. Her defense, her depth of shot, her dedication to power and deadly serve were just too much for the defending champion. This was Serena’s day. This was Serena’s tournament.
Forget about the Serena Slam, this might just be the Serena Century.
Serena only needed one match point. Fittingly, she served an ace, her third of the game. When it whizzed by Sharapova, Serena dropped to her knees, and the emotion came pouring out of her. She looked like someone winning her first Grand Slam, not her 16th.
It was a moment that she's been waiting 11 years for, one she thought might never come.
Last year, after her shocking first-round defeat, we saw her cry tears of pain, of self-doubt and despair. Today we saw the tears of a champion.
Serena Williams just might be playing the best tennis of her life at 31 years old. She has no plans of slowing down.
That’s scary. That’s inspiring. That’s Serena.
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