ROME, Italy - Serena Williams emerged victorious in the first all-American final since 2012 - the first on red clay since 2002 - defeating countrywoman Madison Keys, 7-6(5), 6-3, to snap a nine-month title drought and win the Internazionali BNL d'Italia for the fourth time in her illustrious career.
"I feel like it was important for me to just go out there like usual," she said in her post-match press conference. "It's a totally new match, it's a different week, you know, and hopefully just win one. If not, hope for next time, next week."
Playing in her third final of 2016, Williams had spent the season in search of her first title since the Western & Southern Open last summer, and was the heavy favorite to break that duck against Keys, who was playing the biggest final of her career on what had hitherto been her least favorite surface.
"I think no matter how many times you play Serena, you always go in and you can just feel her presence," Keys said after the match. "That's always an extra thing that you have to be worried about during the match.
"But for me today it really wasn't so much about how big the tournament was or anything like that. It was really just wanting to go out and do my best and give my best performance."
None of that seemed to matter from the outset as Keys unlocked the early break, leading 3-1 in the first set. Williams steadied from there, winning the next three games and later grabbing the opening set in a tie-break.
"I think she's such a powerful player," Williams said, backing up her praise of Keys at net, when she predicted her opponent could be a future World No.1. "Obviously going in, I knew that, but I was just trying. I think I was pretty much able to just get back what I could, you know, and that's all I was trying to do was just to go out there and be consistent, and, yeah, make my shots."
Serving for the match in the second, there would be one final momentum shift as the 21-time Grand Slam champion was broken one game from the win, but the break was swiftly repaid in kind and Williams was the winner of a 70th career title - the fifth woman to achieve such a total in singles after Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, and Margaret Court. In all, she hit four fewer winners than Keys (13 to 17), but also eight fewer errors (24 to 32), and converted all but one of her six break point chances to seal the match in just under 90 minutes.
? WTA (@WTA) May 15, 2016
Missing the Mutua Madrid Open due to illness, Williams was playing her first red clay event of the season; the win in Rome sets her up in good stead to defend her French Open title as she attempts to win her fourth crown there, as well.
"I have tried to defend there once, twice, three times before. Didn't quite work so well. But this year is different. I'm going to definitely go in there and I feel more calm and I don't feel stress to, like, have to win. You know, I feel like I just am happy to be out here."
For Keys, it was a breakthrough run; recently pairing with new coach Thomas Hogstedt, the 21-year-old is set to re-enter the Top 20 at No.17 - not too far from her career-high of No.16.
"I think having a couple of Top 10 wins this week was really big for me and playing people who have done very well in Roland Garros and just on clay in general. But I think the biggest thing is just how calm I have stayed on court and really, even in tough situations, stayed calm and collected and just really focused on my game, and I feel like I'm just playing much smarter tennis."
? WTA (@WTA) May 15, 2016