Serena Wins First Title Back In Stanford
Published July 31, 2011 12:00
STANFORD, CA, USA - If there were any doubts as to whether Serena Williams would be a champion again, it didn't take long for them to be silenced. In just her third tournament back from a year-long absence from the game, the American won her 38th WTA title at the Bank of the West Classic.
With only Eastbourne and Wimbledon on her points total, Williams came into Stanford ranked a lowly No.169, far from the on-paper favorite she used to be when she was No.1. And in a draw that had four Top 10 players in it, even the biggest believers would have had some doubts. But none of that mattered at all.
Playing a WTA tournament in America for the first time since 2009, Williams came out blazing, beating fellow 29-year-old Anastasia Rodionova by a double bagel in the first round. After a second set hiccup in the second round - she beat Maria Kirilenko, 62 36 62 - she went into high gear again, stunning Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals, 61 63, and Sabine Lisicki in the semis, 61 62.
On the other side of the draw the No.9-ranked player in the world, Marion Bartoli, was cruising. Seeded No.3 with a first round bye, she beat Rebecca Marino in straight sets and then enjoyed some reprieve in the next two rounds - a 61 retirement win over Ayumi Morita in the quarterfinals and a semifinal walkover over No.8 seed Dominika Cibulkova, due to an abdominal injury.
For Williams a final battle with Bartoli was a chance for revenge. Four weeks ago, Bartoli beat her in the fourth round of Wimbledon, where she was the two-time defending champion. And she would get her revenge. Bartoli was up 4-2 in the first set and even served for it at 5-4 but Williams would not let it get away from her again, as she reeled off eight straight games to go up 75 50. Bartoli held one last time, then Williams served it out for a 75 61 triumph.
"Marion's always coming back. I was relieved after that last point," Williams said. "She's playing really well and really aggressively. I just had to bring the level of my game up to her level because she's clearly a really good player."
Williams is now an incredible 38-14 in WTA finals in her career. With the title she is projected to more than half her ranking and move back into the Top 80.
"I haven't won a tournament that isn't a Grand Slam in forever, so this is cool," Williams said. "I'm taking every tournament much more seriously now - not that I didn't before, but now even more so. I definitely want to take this whole swing seriously. Believe it or not, I don't love the grass and I do love playing on hardcourts, so this is a good time for me to be playing right now."
And the ranking? "I hated the triple digits. I've got to get to single digits though."
Williams also commented on the fans in Stanford. "It was a really, really good crowd. Hearing them clap when I walk out there is something I truly missed. It's so awesome to be back and be a part of those moments. I take pride in having fans come out and watch me. And that means so much, even if it's just one person - I remember there was one time, there was just one guy who kept yelling, 'Come on Serena!' Even one fan can make such a big difference."
Bartoli was playing her third final in Stanford, having been a runner-up in 2008 (losing to Aleksandra Wozniak in the final) and winning it in 2009 (beating Venus Williams in the final). She was very complimentary after this final.
"I said it even before the match - Serena can improve from one day to the other, so you can imagine from one month to the other," Bartoli said. "She also had four good wins coming into this match, especially the last two matches where she won extremely easily, I totally knew it would be different from Wimbledon."
In the doubles final, No.2 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko beat No.1 seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, 61 63. Azarenka and Kirilenko stormed out to a 61 30 lead before Huber and Raymond really sunk their teeth into the match - the American duo won three of the last six games but it was not enough to overcome their in-form opponents. Azarenka and Kirilenko now have three titles together, all Premiers - Cincinnati last summer and Madrid earlier this year; Azarenka now has six WTA doubles titles, Kirilenko 10.
"Last year I was able to win the singles title here at the Bank of the West Classic and now the doubles," said Azarenka, who turned 22 years old on Sunday. "We had a great week and I look forward to playing again with Maria."
"First, I want to wish Victoria a happy birthday," Kirilenko said after Sunday afternoon's final. "She is a great doubles partner. We had a great week at the tournament and hope we can come back and win this title again."