STANFORD, Calif. -- Serena Williams won her WTA tour-leading fourth title of the season, rallying from 1-5 down in the first set to defeat No. 8 Angelique Kerber 7-6 (1), 6-3 to win her third Bank of the West title. Williams has won the title in each of the last three times she's played the event and extended her win streak to 13 matches in Stanford.
Three thoughts on Serena's confidence-boosting week:
Williams was tested all week...and came through to win: The last time we saw Serena on court was at Wimbledon, where she retired under bizarre and confusing circumstances in her second round doubles match. No one knew which Serena would show up in Stanford. She said her uncoordinated form in that doubles match was due to a viral illness, but hit the practice courts hard and came into the tournament fit and healthy. The doubts and lack of confidence were still evident, especially in her quarterfinal match against Ana Ivanovic, which saw her come back from getting blitzed in the first set to win 2-6, 6-3, 7-5. One day later she found herself locked in a tight first set against No. 18 Andrea Petkovic on Saturday, before raising her level to win the last eight games to win 7-5, 6-0.
It was another slow start to the day for Serena in the final, falling behind 5-1 in the first set before winning six consecutive games, and then romping to the 7-1 win in the first set tiebreaker. She broke immediately in the second set and rolled to the victory behind 37 winners and 28 unforced errors. Kerber hit 18 winners to 23 unforced errors, a number far too high for her counter-punching game. Despite the poor start to the match, Serena served efficiently for the match, serving at 64 percent and winning 80 percent of her first serve points and 60 percent of her second serve points. The win moved her record against top ten opponents this season to 7-0.
"Overall I felt ok," Williams said. "I felt like I'm moving in the right directions is the best way to put it. I feel like I can really play a lot better. For instance today I don't think I served my best and I didn't make that many winners off the return. Still there's a lot of room for improvement but it was a good win for me just to get some momentum going."
That she didn't blink or panic throughout the week when she found herself in pressure situations speaks well of her mindset as she starts her summer hard court season. She didn't play her best tennis consistently this week -- her footwork was lackadaisical at times and the serve wasn't as big as we're used to seeing -- but her game will just get better as she gets more match play.
"I thought I moved well all week. I thought my fitness was good all week," Williams said. "Serving OK, not to my level, but at least I was trying to hold on to my serve as much as I could."
More than anything, Serena's disappointing first seven months of the season were really about her physical and emotional fitness. Her performance this week in Stanford appears to show she's back on track. This was a focused and intense effort, day in and day out.
The Ivanovic match was a big one: If Serena goes on to roll through the North American hard courts and defend her U.S. Open title next month, her win over Ivanovic in the third round may prove the catalyst. As Pam Shriver on ESPN noted, Serena needed that win far more than Ivanovic did, for no other reason than to prove that she was back to the level where she could beat one of the best players of the season. This wasn't just an instance of Ivanovic rolling over once Williams looked to have grabbed the momentum in the second set, though Ivanovic did struggle with what she described as a pinched nerve in her right hip/back area. We've seen Serena ride a wave of confidence to steamroll her opponents, but Ivanovic put up a fight in the final set by coming back from 1-3 down to win three consecutive games. In what was the biggest test of her tournament, Williams shrugged off that string of games, and played two great return games to break Ivanovic twice and serve it out. That was big.
What's next for Serena: She will reunite with coach Patrick Mouratoglou next week at the Rogers Cup in Montreal where she hasn't played at since 2000. If the draw holds, she's in for a tough test. Her potential road to the title includes Sam Stosur, Lucie Safarova, a quarterfinal against Eugenie Bouchard in what would be their first meeting of the season and then Maria Sharapova in the semifinal to possibly face Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the final. But with three wins over top-20 opponents this week, she will once again go in as the favorite for the title.