Serena beats Jankovic for 3rd Open title

All these years later, Serena Williams is back as the US Open champion, and she's back at No. 1, too.

updated: September 16, 2008 08:58 IST
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New York:

All these years later, Serena Williams is back as the US Open champion, and she's back at No. 1, too.

Displaying the talent and tenacity that helped her dominate tennis earlier in the decade, Williams outlasted second-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia 6-4, 7-5 for her third U.S. Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title on Sunday.

After flinging her racket straight up and jumping, hopping and skipping and screaming for joy, Williams met Jankovic at the net and felt compelled to say, "I'm sorry I got so excited."

No apology necessary.

It was Williams' first triumph at Flushing Meadows since 2002, and it guaranteed that the American will lead the rankings on Monday for the first time since August 2003 _ the longest gap between stints at No. 1 for a woman.

Her previous Grand Slam title came in January 2007, at the Australian Open.

Jankovic was ranked No. 1 for a week last month and would have returned there by winning a final that was postponed from Saturday because of Tropical Storm Hanna.

In a thrill-a-minute match full of marvelous strokes and momentum swings, Williams was four times a single point from heading to a third set. But she was simply relentless, and took the final four games and took the title without dropping a set. The closest she came to losing one? In the quarterfinals, when she beat older sister Venus in two tiebreakers.

On this night, Venus was in the guest box, cheering for Kid Sis.

"Serena was a better player tonight," Jankovic said. "She was just too good tonight."

As good as Jankovic is at retrieving balls and extending points, Williams can do that with the best of them, too, leading to point after point lasting more than a dozen shots as both women scurried around Arthur Ashe Stadium, their sneakers squeaking loudly.

Both sent close-range shots directly at the other.

But the difference in strength was clear: Repeatedly after those lengthy exchanges, Jankovic was left shaking her racket hand, trying to lessen the sting. On the match's very first point, Williams drove a backhand winner with such force, such ferocity, that she sent one of her earrings flying.

The fourth-seeded Williams finished with 44 winners, 29 more than Jankovic, and smacked serves at up to 120 mph (194 kph), a 14 mph (23 kph) edge over her opponent's fastest.

The finish was fantastic.

Williams somehow prolonged the second set after falling behind love-40 while serving and trailing 5-3.

Those three break points were set points for Jankovic, and Williams deleted each one, with a backhand winner, an overhead winner and then by forcing an errant backhand on a 10-stroke point. A 98 mph (158 kph) service winner left a frustrated Jankovic tossing her racket up in the air. When she sailed the next return long, Williams was at 5-4.

The next game was filled with as much drama as many a match.

Jankovic earned her fourth set point with an ace, then blew it by double- faulting.

Williams earned six break points and frittered away five. On No. 6, they produced a spectacular 22-stroke point that Williams ended with a forehand passing shot down the line.

As quickly as it appeared things were getting away from Williams, she regained the lead. The next game featured more brilliant play by both, including a 24-stroke exchange Jankovic won with a forehand, and an 11-stroke point Williams took with a perfect stab volley.

Now up 6-5, four points from the title, Williams flexed her arm muscles and gritted her teeth. At the other end, four points from defeat, Jankovic went up to the bouncing ball and kicked it.

Serving to stay in it, Jankovic wasted a game point with a double fault. Then she dropped a groundstroke into the net, presenting Williams with second match point. Williams converted, ending a 14-stroke point with a backhand winner.

Her father climbed out of his second-row seat to help celebrate, while her mother and Venus applauded in the guest box.

There were times when it looked as if that celebration wouldn't happen, even if one volley winner by Williams early in the second set left Jankovic sprawled on the court, doing the splits and then resting on her knees and covering her face.

To put it simply: Williams couldn't put Jankovic away.

The Serb hung tough in the second set, saving two break points at 1-0 and two more at 3-2. She also complained to the chair umpire that Williams was taking too long between points.

And suddenly, when Williams flubbed a drop shot, dumping it in the net, Jankovic broke for a 4-3 lead, then held to 5-3.

But Jankovic wouldn't win another game.

Williams wouldn't allow it.