PARIS: Overcoming a mid-match lull and a third-set deficit, Serena Williams won her third French Open title and 20th major singles trophy by beating 13th-seeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 on Saturday.
After double-faulting away a two-break lead in the second set, then starting poorly in the third, the No. 1-seeded Williams took the last six games and added to her championships on the red clay of Roland Garros in 2002 and 2013.
Those go alongside six each from the U.S. Open and Australian Open, and five from Wimbledon.
“When I was a little girl, in California, my father and my mother wanted me to play tennis. And now I’m here, with 20 Grand Slam titles,” Williams said in French. “This is very special for me. I haven’t always played very well here, but I’m really happy to win the 20th here.”
She stretched her Grand Slam winning streak to 21 matches, following titles at the U.S. Open last September and Australian Open in January.
Only two women in the century-plus history of Grand Slam tennis have won more major titles than the 33-year-old American: Margaret Smith Court with 24, and Steffi Graf with 22.
But this one did not come easily for Williams, who has been dealing with an illness and skipped practice Friday.
She double-faulted 11 times, part of 42 total unforced errors, 25 more than her opponent. In the third set, she fell behind 2-0, was warned by the chair umpire for an audible obscenity and even resorted to hitting one shot left-handed.
Whatever it takes to win, right? No one does that better than Williams, who is 32-1 in 2015, including 12-0 in three-setters.
She is the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win the Australian Open and French Open back-to-back and will head to the grass courts of Wimbledon this month with a chance to extend a bid to do just about the only thing she hasn’t accomplished: win a calendar-year Grand Slam.
When Saturday’s match, which went from a stroll to a struggle, was over, Williams dropped her racket, threw her head back and lifted her arms into a “V.” In the stands, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, stood and raised his hands. He held aloft two fingers on his right and made a fist with his left, to symbolize “20.”
And to think: Four times in her first six matches over the past two weeks, Williams dropped the opening set before coming back to win, including in Thursday’s semifinals, when Williams was lethargic and, Mouratoglou would say afterward, bothered by the flu, a fever and difficulty breathing.
So the most meaningful question leading into the final against Safarova, a 28-year-old lefty with a whip-like forehand who was making her Slam final debut in her 40th major appearance, was this: How healthy would Williams be?
She began providing answers from the get-go on a sunny afternoon.
Williams closed the first game with an untouchable groundstroke winner, followed by a 120 mph (194 kph) ace. As if to prove her timing on returns was just fine, too, she pounded a 104 mph (167 kph) serve with a cross-court forehand so powerful and precise that Safarova didn’t bother to step toward the ball, watching the winner sail by for a break that made it 3-1 after 13 minutes.
Williams led 4-1 in the second set, then began to falter. Coughing between points, she double-faulted twice in a row to get broken for the first time, then double-faulted again to make it 4-all. When Safarova, now more confident in her strokes, held moments later, she led 5-4.
Safarova stood strong in the tiebreaker and grabbed the first two games of the final set, displaying the sort of strokes she used to beat past champions Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic on the way to the final.
Only two women in the Open era of professional tennis, which began in 1968, played in more majors than Safarova before winning a trophy. As soon as Safarova made things interesting enough Saturday to perhaps begin thinking about putting her name on that short list, Williams quickly regained control.