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Serena Williams: “Come On!”

The Williams sisters have long had a rap for missed tournaments, feigned injuries and a cavalier attitude to fans, but none of those characteristics were in evidence yesterday at the French Open, where Serena Williams won her 20th Grand Slam (“Grand Chelem” en français) tournament. She beat Czech Lucie Safarova in three sets, despite suffering from the flu that had made her semi-final match an ordeal on Thursday, and had her in bed most of the day on Friday. In an exclusive post-game court-side interview with Dartblog, she responded, “Oh, yes!” when I inquired if she were still sick. She then graciously said, “Thank you” when I offered that hers had been a gutsy performance. (OK, OK, so I asked her one question, repeated it, and she answered while signing my wife’s program, but still.)

Lucie Serana.jpg

Safarova entered the court with a wave and and a smile, and she acquitted herself well against an opponent whom she had never beaten in eight previous matches — for good reason: she is the weaker player. But the drama was all with Williams, who physically struggled at times. Her on-court speaking ranged from a girlish “Sorry” each time that she threw a ball in the air to serve and then decided that the throw was not on target, to the loud imprecation that “This is f**king hard” as she fought her illness and Safarova. She coached herself out loud with phrases like “Move forward!” and “I know how to hit that ball!”, and she commented “Good ball” when Safarova hit a winner deep down the sideline.

Just before the end of the match, during a break, and before the umpire announced “reprise,” Serena sat in her chair and sobbed into a towel for a long moment. She then took a deep breath, wiped her face, pulled herself together, and went out and won the last few points that she needed to become champion for a third time in Paris. As I said, gutsy stuff.

Post-match Serena took real pleasure in speaking to the crowd in an enthusiastic, if somewhat limited, French, and she had plenty of time to pose with the ballboys and girls in a group picture.

Addendum: In the early 1970’s, American Roscoe Tanner merited an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show as the first player to hit 100mph serves (he was later clocked with a serve of 153mph). While Safarova consistently reached the the 100mph figure, Williams topped 120mph on numerous occasions (top speed: 126mph), often shouting, “Come on!” — her favorite exclamation — when she hit an ace. For a 59-second tutorial on how to hit a serve, watch the full-body power that Williams brings to her first one:

Sorry about the poor resolution. Neither YouTube nor Vimeo could do any better with an image that has much better resolution when played on my iPhone 6 than it does on your screen.

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