They said Maria Sharapova was the queen of Clay, but it was a completely different story on Saturday when Serena Williams unseated the defending champion to win only her second French Open title with a clinical straight-sets victory.
The pre-match predictions that another one-sided contest between Williams and Sharapova would eventuate did not turn out that way in the first set, when Sharapova broke for an early 2-0 lead.
She had a game point to go 3-0 up, but Serena would come back, as she always does, and take the first set 6-4.
It appeared Williams had slowed down after she absolutely crushed Sara Errani in the semi-finals.
Sharapova, on the other hand, had entered the championship final on the back of a three-set victory over her Belarussian nemesis Victoria Azarenka.
Eventually, Williams would win the second set by the same scoreline, to continue a 12-year streak of women’s finals being decided in straight sets.
There has not been a three-set women’s final since 2001, when Jennifer Capriati edged out Kim Clijsters in an epic; the final set that year stretching to 12-10.
Finally, Williams has capped off a strong clay court season with the French Open title, something that had eluded her for the past decade while the likes of Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Francesca Schiavone and Li Na took the limelight.
Williams entered the French Open having won clay court titles in Charleston, Madrid and Rome, and now her title in Paris completes what I like to call the ‘Clay Court Slam’ – that is, winning the two big build-up tournaments (Madrid and Rome) and the Grand Slam (French Open).
With that, she also finishes this year’s clay court series undefeated.
Ana Ivanovic’s (2008) and Maria Sharapova’s (last year) French Open titles should have huge asterisks marked next to them.
Ivanovic was very lucky to win in 2008; that year, Serena Williams would have met the Serbian in the quarter-finals (and recorded a routine straight sets victory, as she had already done at the US Open in 2006) and had a much easier draw than her, but instead Katarina Srebotnik sent her packing in the third round.
It should also be noted that Ivanovic had a very poor build-up to the tournament, crashing out early in two of three tournaments leading up to Paris, including an embarrassing third round thrashing at the hands of Lindsay Davenport in Miami and a second round dismissal by Tsvetana Pironkova in Rome.
Compare that to Williams’ pre-French Open build-up, whereby she won Bangalore, Miami and Charleston (on green clay), and also reached the quarter-finals in Berlin and Rome.
Throw in the fact that Serena had beaten Ivanovic in their only previous meeting and the draw was set for Serena to take title number two in Paris.
But it was not to be, and Ivanovic would barely be troubled on her way to capturing her only French Open title, with her only threat being Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals.
Maria Sharapova’s name also appeared on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen by luck as well.
When the draw was released last year, she found Serena Williams assigned to her quarter (this was also the case at the Australian Open in the same year).
Williams had handled her easily in Madrid on the way to winning the title. Her record against Sharapova also speaks for itself.
The potential was there for a blockbuster quarter-final showdown between the two, but Serena Williams was upset in the first round by Virginie Razzano, a defeat which would mark a massive turning point in her career and has since spurred her on to what she is achieving now.
Like Ivanovic in 2008, Sharapova was barely troubled on her way to winning the title, with the only genuine threat, Petra Kvitova, proving no match for the Russian in the semi-finals.
It was last year’s French Open title that completed a career Grand Slam for the Russian. Last night, she was unsuccessful in defending her title, but she didn’t give up in the face of Serena Williams’ onslaught.
In my opinion Serena Williams should have at least four French Open titles by now. In those two years in which she lost, she was either cursed or just didn’t have a good day at the office.
If those had not happened then she would have at least four of each Grand Slam title, and next year could be shooting for a fifth title in Paris to have an even (at least) five titles of each Grand Slam.
One deserving winner, though, was Svetlana Kuznetsova. She deserved her title because she defeated Williams in what would be an epic three-set quarter-final, and not only that, she defeated the rampaging hot favourite, Dinara Safina, in the final.
Note that I did not mention Justine Henin’s 2007 quarter-final victory over Williams, because nobody was going to beat the Belgian at the French Open that year.
Williams is now the only active French Open champion to have triumphed more than once, after her victory way back in 2002; the title which started her ‘Serena Slam’.
And had it not been for a three-set loss to Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals of this year’s Australian Open, the second edition of the “Serena Slam” would have been complete by now.
To complete the second edition this time around, she will have to successfully defend her Wimbledon and US Open titles, as well as win next year’s Australian Open.
With the form that she is showing right now, it’s hard to tip against that happening.