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Beyond the Baseline

Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova in powerful, noisy French Open final

Serena Williams Serena Williams nearly doubled her points advantage in the WTA rankings. (Michel Euler/AP)

By Nick Zaccardi

PARIS -- Three thoughts off Serena Williams' 6-4, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in the French Open final ...

1. Serena Williams won this tournament because of consistent dominance. Saturday's scoreline suggests that, like all of Williams's matches these two weeks, there was little doubt over the outcome. That's not totally true -- Williams was broken on her first service game -- but the feeling throughout was Sharapova was fighting an uphill battle. A pretty unwinnable one, too. Williams broke Sharapova three times in the first set and again in Sharapova's second service game in the second set. She stayed on course to close it out in one hour, 46 minutes, dropping to her knees after match point, overcome with emotion on the Court Philippe Chatrier clay.

The difference was succinct: the serve -- Williams's was too powerful, Sharapova's too erratic. Williams captured her 16th major singles title (and second French Open, 11 years to the day after her first, over sister Venus) by mowing through a women's field in a little over eight hours on court. Only 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova took a set off Williams, and Sharapova was the only other player to even break her serve.

It's hard to believe Williams went out in the first round here last year. She's lost just three matches since and is on a 31-match winning streak. She's in better form (compared to her peers) going into the grass-court season than at any point in her career. What, if anything, can stop her from lifting a sixth Wimbledon next month? To quote Williams from before the French Open began, "the lady in the mirror."

2. Sharapova put up a better fight than many thought she would. Few gave the Russian a chance, given she hadn't beaten Williams in nearly nine years, losing their last 12 meetings (and winning just one set in their last nine). And Sharapova's quick demise seemed apparent after the first three points, when she went down love-40 on her serve, being bullied around by Williams as usual.

But Sharapova fought back this time and even took an early break. Her come ons to winners ratio was nearly 1:1. She showed -- quite audibly -- she was not intimidated. Her Achilles heel first serve, however, could not hold up in gusty conditions. Williams had break chances on each of Sharapova's first three service games. Sharapova landed fewer than half of her first serves in the opening set, a 51-minute affair when she came pretty close to matching Williams stroke for stroke from the baseline.

Many recent women's finals have the reputation of being duds, unsettling appetizers for the following day's men's final. But this was certainly competitive in comparison and could end up being more memorable than Sunday's final between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.

This was the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 in a women's major final at Roland Garros since 1995 (Steffi Graf d. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario) and the first in any major since the 2004 Australian Open (Justine Henin d. Kim Clijsters). The state of the women's game didn't change Saturday -- it's still Williams, then Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, then the rest -- but Sharapova made Williams work for it. Again, better than expected.

3. Is Williams the best player of this generation -- man or woman? She won her 16th career Grand Slam singles title, moving her two behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for a share of fourth all-time among women. She's still eight majors behind record holder Margaret Court, who raked in 11 Australian Open titles against less than stellar competition. That record is almost surely insurmountable.

Of more realistic note, she's now only one behind Roger Federer's men's record. Federer and Williams were born within seven weeks of each other in 1981, so it's natural to compare the two most accomplished players of this century.

Williams missed at least one major every year from 1999 to 2006 (save 2001) and then three straight in 2010 and 2011 after she stepped on glass in a restaurant, suffered a pulmonary embolism and had complications from surgery. Federer, meanwhile, has played every single major since 2000. During that time, we've seen the pendulum swing from a deep field of WTA stars to a golden era of the men's side. Federer had little competition at the beginning of his run, and now Williams stands alone.

Federer struck out in the quarterfinals here and it's arguable whether he can win another major. It would be stunning if Williams's trophy case doesn't grow. She looked better at the 2013 French Open than at the 2002 French Open. A scary thought considering she's the oldest-ever No. 1. There's no doubt Williams has aged better than Federer. If trends continue, there will be no doubt who had the better career, either.

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