Congratulations, Ree! Serena capped a week of powerful performances with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Lucie Safarova to win the Family Circle Cup on Sunday. It was Serena’ 40th WTA title and first on clay in four years since capturing this championship in 2008.
Serena didn’t expect to show so strongly in her first event of the season on clay. She said the steady stream of things she deals with off the tennis court helps keep her focused when she’s on it.
“I’m just trying to keep my mind busy,” Serena said. “I’m doing so much it keeps me staying in the moment.”
This week, that’s been playing some of the most dominant matches of her career. Serena followed up a 6-1, 6-1 steamroll over Samantha Stosur, the world’s fifth-ranked player, in the semifinals Saturday with her rout of Safarova.
Serena said she had some mediocre practices this week, yet saved her best when it counted most.
“I’ve never played, I can say, consistently at such a high level with low errors” the last two matches, Serena said.
“And the scary thing is,” she says, “I could’ve served so much better.”
Serena was dominant on her serves this week. She wasn’t broken in her final four matches, going 25-0 in her service games. The closest Safarova came was in the first set when she couldn’t cash in on break points in the third and fifth games. Serena escaped both, getting out of the final jam with a 116 mph service winner to lead 5-0.
Safarova avoided the double-bagel, the 6-0, 6-0 fate she hung on Polona Hercog to reach the final, by taking the fourth game of the second set at love. Safarova pounded a forehand winner to loud applause, smiling and lifting her head in relief.
Serena wrapped it up with a 107-mph ace, her fifth of the match, and received a long ovation from the crowd. She leads the WTA with 108 aces on the season.
“She was amazing,” said Safarova, who fell to 0-5 against Serena. “She deserves to be the champion.”
Safarova became a Family Circle champion, too, later Sunday, teaming with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win the doubles title over Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova in a third-set tiebreaker.
“It’s been wonderful and fun all week,” Safarova said.
Serena won her 40th title to move one away from Kim Clijsters among active players on the career list. Venus Williams leads with 43 championships. Serena said her play was truly a surprise since it was so early in the clay-court season. Her last two finals appearances on the surface both took place in Charleston—a loss to Justine Henin in 2003 and her win over Vera Zvonareva in 2008.
Serena had just a day or so after the Sony Ericsson Open to practice on the slower clay at the Family Circle Tennis Center. She looked rusty in her opening match, a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Elena Vesnina on Tuesday.
But Serena came back in her next match with a much sharper game. She took out Marina Erakovic 6-2, 6-2 and was in control in her quarterfinals win over Sabine Lisicki, who retired in the first set after twisting her left ankle.
However, Serena was at her best on the weekend.
She didn’t give Stosur, the reigning U.S. Open champion, room to breathe in the semifinals. Serena ended the clay-court run with a commanding victory over the 26th-ranked Safarova.
Serena is not scheduled to play again until next month in Madrid, then at the Italian Open before moving on to Paris for the year’s second Grand Slam, the French Open.
Serena has talked frequently this week of her desire to add another title at Roland Garros—her only French crown came in 2002—to her Hall-of-Fame resume of 13 major championships. She also talked about moving to Paris.
“Yeah, you know, I love it there. I just … I need a change,” she said. “I’ll still be based out of the United States because there’s so many tournaments here. So we’ll see.”
The Family Circle Cup victory may be a launching pad to a great season for Serena, who was sidelined for nearly a year by foot injuries and health issues before returning last summer.
“I really feel like, hopefully, I’ll remember this so I can play like this more often,” Serena said.
Serena also was happy to honor the 40th anniversary of the Family Circle tournament and the legacy of women’s tennis. The tournament named its stadium court on Saturday night for tennis great and pioneer Billie Jean King, who was on court during Serena’ trophy ceremony.
King and members of the Original 9 players, who defied the tennis establishment to form the first women’s tour and fight for better prize money, were saluted during the weekend.
Serena earned $115,000 for the victory, a far cry from the first Family Circle in 1973—won by Rosie Casals—that offered a then-unheard of $100,000 in total prize money.
“I want to thank Billie,” Serena said. “Without her, I don’t know if any of us would be here.”