US Open 2014: Serena Williams roars past Caroline Wozniacki to ‘No18 Club’

Serena Williams beats Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to win the US Open and her 18th Grand Slam title

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

When Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki saw that they were on opposite sides of the draw for the last Grand Slam of the year, they were both delighted.

For these two women, though separated by nine years in age, a continent in both birthplace and where they now call home, and by what seemed an eternity in their experience of what lay ahead—the final of the US Open—are firm friends.

Twice through this summer’s US Open Series they had played each other, both times short of the finals in Montreal and Cincinnati. This time, if everything worked out according to plan, they could meet in the final.

But it could have been so different. Wozniacki, currently seeded outside the top 10 at No11 picked up a tough draw that could have upset hopes of reaching the final for the first time since she made her one and only Grand Slam final in 2009.

The Dane’s first seed was the dangerous Andrea Petkovic, followed by one of the favourites for the title, Maria Sharapova, in the fourth round. The quarters may have brought another Williams, Venus, but in a bizarre third-round match, Sara Errani triumphed over Williams, 6-0, 0-6, 7-6. Wozniacki duly put out the Italian for the loss of only one game.

In the adjacent quarter, no seeds even made it to the quarters, so Wozniacki’s road to the final was as good as set even before Shuai Peng was forced to retire from heat exhaustion.

And Williams kept up her end of the bargain for the loss of only 26 games in six matches: not a tie-break, let alone a dropped set, in sight.

Both Williams and Wozniacki had hit form after less-than-hot seasons. Williams fell in the second round of Roland Garros and the third round of Wimbledon, but went on a surge through North America with titles in Stanford and Cincinnati and the semis of Montreal. So during the US Open, she had already sealed the No1 ranking for several more weeks and become the first woman to qualify for the WTA Championships.

Wozniacki hit the North American hard courts after a dip to No16 in the rankings and without a title, but she first won in Istanbul then reached the quarters of Montreal and semis of Cincinnati, losing to Williams both times.

And here was the final gripping element in this final between friends: Those two recent matches had gone to three sets, with Wozniacki winning the first set on both occasions.

Serena admitted she would have liked to see her sister sharing the final, but Wozniacki was a close second: “I would have loved to have seen Venus there: That goes unsaid. But, because [Carline and I] played each other a lot recently in the semis, maybe the quarters… it would be much better to play each other in the final than earlier on. I was just glad we weren’t on the same side of the draw this tournament.”

Wozniacki reflected on their recent runs and their friendship/rivalry: “Serena is a fun girl. She’s so nice to hang out with. Always makes me laugh and makes everyone around her laugh. Definitely a very inspiring person to be around.

“I have had two tough matches against her the last few weeks. I was really close. Hopefully for me it will be third time’s the charm. I would love to win it and have a Grand Slam under my belt. It would definitely have the media stop talking about my lack of a Grand Slam!”

And that comment highlighted the gulf between these two. Wozniacki had been at No1 for over a year in 2010/11 and owned 22 titles, though still only 24 years old. But she has routinely been dubbed the best woman never to win a Major.

Williams, in contrast, had 17 of the biggest trophies from 22 Major finals, and an 18th would put her level with two of the greatest women ever to play this sport, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. And a sixth US title would also equal Evert’s record in New York.

But there were early nerves on both sides: Wozniacki double faulted twice to concede a break in the second game, and Williams made four straight errors in the third to hand the break back.

Two more breaks made it four in a row, with Williams was piling up winners but also 13 errors, while Wozniacki had made only three errors but just one winner: an ace.

But two games later, and Williams was finding her range, firing from inside the baseline and to the baseline. It was a weight of shot that Wozniacki struggled to manage, and Williams at last held for 5-2. The Dane’s backhand showed some improvement to hold her first service game of the match, but Williams too looked stronger, and served out the set, 6-3.

Now both were playing more freely, but that meant Williams was hitting wonderful power forehands and backhands, making angles and down-the-line winners to break immediately, and she held with three aces. Wozniacki still had to fend off a break point before finally holding—which she did with her second ace/winner of the match, and did the same again at 4-2.

The contest, appropriately, ended with a roar, producing the two best rallies of the match. One of them, 26 strokes of pulsating hitting, brought the entire arena to its feet. Wozniacki stood toe-to-toe with Williams, and finally made a winner aside from her three aces, but it never looked anything but a momentous victory for an emotional Williams.

The American unleashed her best as she accelerated to the winning line, leaving one of the most mobile of players on the tour rooted to the spot. It produced a last decisive break, 6-3.

The award ceremony sealed several records in one: Williams’ 18 Majors were marked by the arrival of the two champions she had now joined, Navratilova and Evert, who presented the latest member of the 18-Slams-Club with a gold Tiffany bracelet. Williams also picked up the biggest ever prize in tennis, the $3million champion’s cheque plus $1million for winning the US Open Series, too.

But the last words go to Wozniacki, who will be back in the top 10 tomorrow.

“She is an inspiration to me both on and off the court, and an unbelievable friend. And you definitely owe the drinks later!”

It seemed the right way to end a day of such achievements: with the human touch. It was the kind of friendship that had supported both women all the way to this unique meeting place—and would continue long after they had left it.

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