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Beyond the Baseline

Serena Williams fends off Maria Sharapova to win second French Open

Serena Williams, 31, became the oldest woman in the Open Era to win the French Open. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images) With her 16th Slam title, Serena Williams, 31, became the oldest woman in the Open Era to win the French Open. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

Top-ranked Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 in the French Open final on Saturday to win her second title at Roland Garros and first since 2002.

In a spirited final, Sharapova broke Williams twice and played her best complete match against the 31-year-old American in years. As well as Sharapova played, though, Williams was better -- as Serena has been over the last nine years of their non-rivalry. Williams' 13th consecutive victory over Sharapova resulted in her 16th major title.

Williams fired 10 aces and hit 29 winners. Most important, Serena held her nerve, which has failed her time and time again in Paris.

"I gave it all I had today. I had to. It wasn't enough," Sharapova said. "Serena's been playing incredible tennis for the last year. You certainly saw that level today."

Williams became the first American to win the French Open since she beat her sister Venus in 2002. This victory, her 31st in a row, was one of the sweetest of her career.

"I didn't think 11 years ago I would still be playing," Serena said. "Honestly, I just feel so good. This is the only one I haven't won more than once."

Williams joins Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the only women to win all four Slams more than once in the Open Era.

Game-by-game analysis of Serena's straight-set win over Sharapova after the jump.


Post Match

11:38 a.m. ET | Championship trophy presentation. 

During the on-court interviews, Serena addresses the crowd in French so I can't really tell you what she said. I'm going to assume it was something along the lines of "Yay!"

"I played a great tournament and ran into a great champion today," Sharapova tells interviewer Fabrice Santoro. "This court has brought me so many nice memories. Of course I would have loved to win here but I'll be back next year and will try to win it again."

I know this is kind of the worst compliment ever, but Sharapova really does the best loser speeches in the game.

Sharapova raises her runner-up platter to a big cheer from the crowd. Then she looks at it as though she's wondering what she can do with it. "Maybe I'll use it for my mail."

Serena skips up the ramp as she's introduced as the women's champion for the first time since 2002, when she defeated sister Venus in the final. She punches the trophy in the air triumphantly and smiles as the National Anthem plays.

"First I really want to congratulate Serena," Sharapova says. "What a great year you've had producing such great tennis. Congratulations. It's really great to see."

"I've had many years at this tournament, many tough ones. But last year was certainly one of the most special ones of my career." Sharapova continues. She thanks her team and her family. Watching her on that stage she has her smile on but you can see her struggling to keep it together. She's disappointed, as any great champion would and should be.

Serena has been practicing for this moment for 11 years. Should we be shocked that she's giving her victory speech in French? She thanks Jehovah, congratulates Maria (who grabs the mic to say "Merci Beaucoup"), and then thanks her team and family. In a hilarious moment, she has to get her mom Oracene's attention, as mom clearly has no idea what she's saying and was just staring off into space.

"I gave it all I had today," Sharapova tells Mary Carillo. "I had to. It wasn't enough. Serena's been playing incredible tennis for the last year. You certainly saw that level today."

Sharapova isn't buying into Carillo's attempts to cheer her up by pointing out how admirable her fight was in the face of the Serena onslaught. "I'm in the French Open final. I did something to get there. I'm not going to leave this court without giving it all I had."

"I didn't think 11 years ago I would still be playing," Serena says. "Honestly, I just feel so good. This is the only one I haven't won more than once."

11:13 a.m. ET | Stats

Final stats: Serena hit 10 aces, no double-faults, won 77 percent of her first serves, 50 percent of her second serves, hit 29 winners, 21 unforced errors, and was 4 for 15 on break points. Maria hit 2 aces, four double-faults, won 48 percent of her first serves, 59 percent of her second serves, hit 10 winners, 17 unforced errors, and was 2 for 2 on break points.

Serena extends her career-longest win streak to 31 matches by snapping Sharapova's 13-match win streak at Roland Garros.

With the loss, Sharapova will drop back to No. 3 behind Victoria Azarenka when the WTA rankings are released on Monday.

Second Set

11:05 a.m. ET | Serena Williams defeats Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-4. 

Serena starts with ace. Then the first sign of nerves kick in as she struggles to move her feet up to a backhand, which she misses wildly.

Then an ace. Obviously.

Big serve out wide and this time she gets her feet up to a short backhand and redirects it down the line. She squats and looks to her box. One point away.

Championships point: Ace.

Serena throws her racket in the air and falls to her knees and pumps her fists. Last year she was bounced in the first round. A year later she's the best in the world and ends an 11-year drought in Paris to win just her second French Open title, defeating the No. 2 player and defending champion to do it.

https://twitter.com/Venuseswilliams/status/343389461687709696

10:59 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, trails *5-4.

Sharapova survives a deuce game and holds. This is the best complete match performance she's put together against Serena in years. She deserves credit for that. Remember, she started this match down 0-40 right out of the gate and battled back. Any lesser competitor would have thought "Oh, crap. Here comes beatdown No. 13," and thrown in the towel. Not Maria.

10:53 a.m. ET | Serena holds, leads 5-3*.

Quick love hold by Serena and she's one game away from finally getting this ginormous elephant off her back.

Ranking Serena's 15 Slam titles

So if Serena ends up closing this out, either with a break or a hold, where does her second French Open title rank among what would be her 16 Slam titles? The path to the title has been a relatively easy one, so it's hard to say the title run would be memorable for any epic tennis matches or because she overcame any on-court challenges. But this title run was more about the road to get here and Serena having to conquer the Parisian demons that have caused her to doubt herself whenever she took to the terre battue. In my opinion, it's definitely one of her best wins, but no better than her 2007 Australian Open or 2012 Wimbledon.

10:50 a.m. ET | Serena leads, *4-3.

Serena has really cleaned it up this set. She hit 12 unforced errors in the first set but just seven so far in the second. Meanwhile her winner count has stayed constant, hitting 13 in the first set and 11 so far here. Sharapova on the other hand has gone off the rails, though she's battling to keep herself in here. It's possible the change is tactical. She played things very tight in the first set, hitting just 6 winners to 5 unforced errors. She's going for more now, having already hit 5 winners at the cost of 10 unforced errors. Meanwhile, she hasn't hit an ace this set (she hit two in the first set) but her first service percentage is climbing.

This is always the dilemma for Sharapova: Go big and risk giving Serena the free points, or play conservative and risk getting blown off the court. Scratch that. That's the dilemma for everyone.

https://twitter.com/MeganFernandez7/status/343379125509165056

Yeah. That was a lot like seeing a leprechaun riding a unicorn.

10:40 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, trails *3-2.

Looking at the stat sheet, the most glaring problem from Sharapova today is her first serve percentage. She's serving at just 53 percent on the day and she really needs that number to be closer to 70 percent. As Ted Robinson observes, it's like a pitcher starting out every batter with a ball. Serena is just sitting on that second serve and -- yup, there's another zinging return winner that lands before Sharapova's even completed her service motion.  Serena took that one on the rise from just two feet behind the service box. Wow.

It looked like Sharapova would get an easy hold at 40-15 but that Serena return and a bad forehand error from Sharapova and the Russian is at deuce on her own serve yet again. But she holds.

10:35 a.m. ET | Serena holds, leads 3-1*.

John McEnroe joking about how David Ferrer is probably just happy to be making the final and planning a fishing trip with Rafael Nadal back in Spain. "You think these two are doing that?" They're not and I think it's great for the women's game. All that "aw shucks" camaraderie can stay on the men's side. The women's game needs these personal rivalries. It must be said, at least as it comes to these two women, any personal animosity when they were younger has really morphed into genuine respect. These days they would just prefer to beat each other to a pulp with their tennis strokes.

Serena Williams nearly doubled her points advantage in the WTA rankings. (Michel Euler/AP) Serena Williams is trying to end an 11-year title drought at Roland Garros. (Michel Euler/AP)

10:30 a.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *2-1.

Serena's hitting another gear, a gear we knew she had. She played that first set fairly close to the vest and won it. Now she's hitting bigger off the ground. She hits a big forehand winner to got to 0-30 on Sharapova's serve and does the same "Auuuuuugh! Why can't you just do that all the time" gesture. Under pressure once again, Sharapova hits a big running forehand down the line that cleans off the line. Against anyone else that's a winner.

Serena ain't anyone else. Her athleticism, the best in the game, helps her get the ball back and she wins the point. One point later she's broken Sharapova for the fourth time today. The Coupe Suzanne Lenglen is just four holds away. Fewer than that if she keeps breaking at this rate.

10:25 a.m. ET | Serena holds, tied 1-1.

Pretty routine service game from Serena that's notable for the backhand up the line she crushes at 30-15. She screams and throws her hands out in frustration as if to say "Come on. That's not that hard. Do that." If Serena does start doing that more, Sharapova's in trouble. That shot will really open up the court and earn her some short balls off Sharapova's forehand.

10:20 a.m. ET | Sharapova holds, leads 1-0.

Half of Sharapova's unforced errors have come off double-faults. She throws in her fourth double of the day to give Serena two break points in the first game, but saves them both by spinning in two first serves. Hey, sometimes a change-up can be effective. She goes for that puffer one too many times though. Serena clocks a forehand return at deuce and Sharapova sails the forehand reply long.

Down break point, Sharapova wins a 13-ball rally with....a slice? Yes, you read that right. Having pulled Serena wide with a laser forehand, Sharapova hits a backhand slice on the mid-court reply and Serena sends a forehand into the net. See? Who says Maria doesn't have variety?

I do. I say it all the time.

Sharapova finds herself down another break point when she  goes for too much on a mid-court backhand and nets it. The crowd groans. Sharapova has already hit as many unforced errors in this game as she had in the entire first set.

But as Jon Wertheim wrote after her quarterfinal win, Sharapova is an alley fighter. Don't let the glitz and glam and Sugarpova fool you. She's a battler. She saves five break points to hold.

I dedicate this one to you, Maria Sharapova:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nqcL0mjMjw

First Set

10:08 a.m. ET | Serena wins the first set 6-4. 

One loose error from Sharapova at 15-0 is all it takes to pretty much rule her out of this game. She hits a great backhand return at Serena's feet and Serena sends back a short ball. Sharapova winds up a backhand and sends it into the net. She chokes her racket in frustration. She's only hit six unforced errors in this set but you feel like every one of them has been a dagger.

Serena closes it out on her second set point with a big serve out wide and forehand down the line combination. She approaches and Sharapova can't stick the running backhand pass, pulling it wide. First set to Serena.

10:04 a.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads at *5-4.

Sharapova trying to consolidate but the game turns on a big poing at 15-all. We get our first long rally of the match -- 20 shots -- with the two trading cross-court forehands until Serena takes the ball up the line and eventually gets the error from Sharapova. And now Sharapova is down 15-40, giving Serena two more break points in this set.

This time she just needs one. Serena breaks Sharapova for the third time this set and will try and serve out the set at 5-4.

Sharapova's last win over Serena came at the WTA Championships in 2004. (Petr David Josek/AP) Sharapova's last win over Serena came at the WTA Championships in 2004. (Petr David Josek/AP)

9:59 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks, tied at 4-4*.

It's so windy out there that Serena has tied her hair up.

That Serena has been able to break Sharapova twice is no surprise. That Sharapova consistently gets looks on Serena's serve is. ESPN's Darren Cahill says it's an issue of return position: "Sharapova & Kuznetsova are the only two to alter return position for Serena's 1st serve. Maria two steps back. Sveta four steps back. Only two to break." Thomas Hogstedt is earning his money.

Sharapova earns a break point and she converts. She's now 2 for 2 on break points as her depth is really causing Serena problems. Serena sends a forehand long and we're back on serve. But can Sharapova hold?

9:54 a.m. ET | Serena leads *4-3.

You can already see Sharapova feeling the weight of every single error she hits. She's shaking out her shoulders after misses and the frustration is creeping in. Sharapova gets close on Serena's serve at 40-30 after a nice sprint-and-flick winner, but Serena holds thanks to the best serve in women's tennis. 4-2.

Photos: Classic photos of SerenaWilliams

Here's what Sharapova said about why she hasn't been able to get the better of Serena in nine years:

"I don't feel like I have taken my chances and opportunities," she said after the semifinals. "When you give a player, you know, that is up all the time, whether it's a break or, you know, feels like they're constantly getting second serves or they're able to rip every ball because there's nothing on your ball, you know, she does extremely well when she's in that position.  Why shouldn't she?"

"Against a player like her, the few [chances] that you have, change that around, because they put something a little bit more in their mind than maybe if they're just steamrolling."

To Sharapova's credit, Serena's not steamrolling in this set. But she does have that break lead.

9:45 a.m. ET | Serena breaks, leads *3-2.

"This ain't your momma's clay court tennis," says Mary Carillo. It's nice to have the Ted Robinson, John McEnroe, Carillo combination back in the booth. I know they can infuriate hard-core tennis fans, but they're a great combination of personalities for a wider audience.

Serena holds. Through the first four games it's Sharapova who has been cleaner. Serena has hit 6 winners to 8 unforced errors, while Sharapova has hit 4 winners to 2 unforced errors. There's also this:

https://twitter.com/BenRothenberg/status/343361996470763521

Poor Sara Errani. I'm not sure she's ever going to stop hearing about that 46 minute semifinal loss.

Back to the match, Sharapova again finds herself at 0-40 on her own serve. She saves one by flicking a crosscourt pass and Serena knocks a touch volley into the net. The wind has been swirling and causing problems on Sharapova's serve, which is the last thing she needs.

Sharapova saves Break Point No. 2 when Serena gives her a short ball that she pounds down the middle of the court to earn an error. But a big return on Break Point No. 3 gets Serena the lead. She breaks to 3-2.

9:34 a.m. ET | Serena breaks back, 2-1*.

It's not a break until you hold, as we say in tennis. Sharapova starts the third game with a double-fault and then beats Serena with depth rather than power. That's a nice development to see from Sharapova, who took something off her strokes to get the ball within six inches of the baseline and earned an error. At 30-15, Sharapova throws in a second-serve ace.

On game point, Sharapova again tries to take a little off her strokes to get it deep. She does so successfully but Serena handles it well and on the one short ball Sharapova lands, Serena steps in and crunches a backhand down the line winner. The audio soundtrack was in mono to start this match. It's now in stereo, as Serena's audibly trying to match Sharapova grunt-for-grunt.

From a 40-15 lead, Sharapova finds herself at deuce. A big return off a fluff second-serve earns Serena another break point. She converts after getting Sharapova on the run, finishing it off with an overhead and a "come on!"

9:25 a.m. ET | Sharapova breaks, leads *2-0.

Right off the bat, Sharapova is going big off her groundstrokes. It doesn't matter. Serena's is taking control of the rallies immediately off the return and her movement means Sharapova has to hit three winners just to win a point. That's a tremendous amount of pressure to have to play under.

Sharapova drops to 0-40 in her first game steels herself to fire off three big serves to get to deuce. Serena earns another break point with a big crosscourt backhand but Sharapova saves with a perfect serve wide. On her first game point, Sharapova fires a big serve down the tee and she holds.

That? Was impressive. But if that's how good Sharapova has to serve just to win a deuce game that's just tough.

Photos: Classic photos of Maria Sharapova

Coming into this match, Sharapova has actually hit more winners (163)  than Serena (158). She's also hit twice as many unforced errors (185) than Serena (90). That gives you an idea of the level of aggression Sharapova plays at compared to Serena, who can hit bigger but chooses her spots a bit more.

She didn't hit any unforced errors in her first return game. Sharapova breaks Serena behind some big hitting off the ground. 2-0. Hmmm.

9:17 a.m. ET | Warm-up

The two biggest names in women's tennis are on court and going through the awkward motions of warming up for what is a monumental match for both women. If Serena wins she completes one of her biggest challenges, winning her beloved French Open for the first time in 11 years and become one of just four women to win all four Slams at least twice (Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert are the others). If Sharapova wins she will snap her 12-match losing streak to Serena, which has lasted almost a decade, and become the first woman to successfully defend the French Open title since Justine Henin in 2007. She will also retain her No. 2 ranking, which is big deal with Wimbledon just two weeks away. Whomever gets the No. 2 ranking won't have to face Serena until the final there.

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario is in the President's Box today. She'll be presenting the winner's trophy.

So the question is whether this will even be a competitive match. Sharapova has done well to get to the final and put herself in a position to beat Serena, but we can't ignore the fact that she hasn't beaten the American since 2004. You can read my full preview of the match here.

Sharapova will serve first.

Ready? Play.

Pre-match

No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 2 Maria Sharapova will meet in the French Open final on Saturday. The match is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET. NBC will have the broadcast.

Both women are seeking their second title at Roland Garros. Williams won her crown in 2002, and this is the first time since then that she's reached the final in Paris. Serena faced a challenge from Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, but otherwise the 31-year-old American has breezed through the draw. She thrashed No. 5 Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals to extend her career-high winning streak to 30 matches.

Sharapova has had to work a bit harder to make the final for the second year in a row. The defending champion needed three sets to oust No. 18 Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals.

Williams is 13-2 against Sharapova, including 12 consecutive victories. The 26-year-old Russian has not defeated Williams since 2004. Williams dominated Sharapova 6-1, 6-4 in the Madrid Open final on clay last month. This will be their first meeting at the French Open.

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