Expect more from an ageless Serena
PARIS -- After Serena Williams won her second French Open and her 16th Grand Slam tournament at age 31 Saturday afternoon, a reporter posed this question: With all her interests outside tennis, did she give any thought to retiring at her peak "like Greta Garbo?"
A Greta Garbo reference? Seriously? Just how old did the reporter think Serena is, anyway?
Serena was only slightly taken aback and showed her breadth of knowledge and wisdom with her reply. "Wow, what an analogy -- me and Greta Garbo. Wow, thank you," she said. She chuckled, waited for some laughter to die down and went on. Yes, she said, "I want to go out in my peak. That's my goal. But have I peaked yet?"
Good question. Who's to say she doesn't have much more to win, much more to achieve?
Serena has won three of the past four Grand Slams. She has won a career-best 31 consecutive matches. Since losing in the first round of last year's French Open, she is a staggering 74-3. She won every set here but one.
Working with Patrick Mouratoglou, she has improved her focus and calmed herself on the court. This was clear Saturday when she showed little emotion during the championship match against Maria Sharapova. Even after dropping the first two games, Serena maintained a cool, level approach while slowly but steadily dismantling her opponent. Serving powerfully, she came back to win the first set 6-4 and won the second in a more convincing manner than the 6-4 score indicated. She put an exclamation mark on her victory by serving three aces in the final game at 118, 121 and 128 mph.
As soon as that final 128 mph ace skipped past Sharapova, however, Serena released all her pent-up emotion. She screamed and tossed aside her racket. She dropped to her knees and thrust her arms skyward in triumph. Her joy was such that it seemed as if she had never won anything before, rather than 15 previous Grand Slam titles, including this one 11 years ago at the age of 20.
At age 31 and 255 days, Serena is the oldest woman to win the French Open and the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. She is also the oldest woman to be No. 1 since the computer rankings began.
"I really believe age is a number at this point, because I have never felt so fit," Serena said. "I feel great. I look great. If I see someone that's 31, I'm like, 'You're old.' Then I'm like, 'I'm 31.' But I don't feel it at all."
The sport continues to age and grow. No teenager has won a Grand Slam since Sharapova won the 2006 U.S. Open at age 19. Sharapova also won the 2004 Wimbledon at age 17 but said earlier this fortnight that "20 is the new 17."
Actually, 31 is the new 17. The game is being played and won by older, stronger, fitter, more experienced athletes, the same as in so many other sports. Better diet and conditioning, improved orthopedic procedures and the motivation of lucrative prize money have added to career longevity.
And this is encouraging. Girls and boys are no longer champions. Women and men are.
"You can still do it at that age if you still have the motivation and the desire," Sharapova said. "I think that's an extremely great effort. Personally, I don't know at 31? That's a great accomplishment if, at that stage, you're still motivated to go out and win tennis matches and that's the most important thing in your life, one of the most important things in your life."
From her tone, it sounded as if Sharapova doesn't think she will have that motivation at age 31. Or perhaps Sharapova, 26, was just imagining several more years of facing Serena, who has beaten her 13 consecutive times while winning 18 of their past 19 sets.
"I think she's doing what she's always done extremely well, but she's doing it on a much more consistent level," Sharapova said. "She's able to come in day in and day out. I know that's a pretty broad answer, but that speaks a lot."
"I'm really relaxed," Serena said. "I really enjoy every moment that I'm out there. I always said that I felt like I have never played my best tennis. I have said that for years, that I feel like I can always do better and play better and I have always wanted to reach that level."
Eleven years after winning at Roland Garros at age 20, Serena has purchased a Paris apartment and learned French. What is the next goal? By winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Serena could tie Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for fourth on the all-time Grand Slam singles titles list (18).
"I'm just trying to go up and up," Serena said. "Today when I won, I was trying to win the French Open; I wasn't trying to get to No. 16. I think it was Fabrice Santoro who told me that I had won 16, and I thought, 'Wow, I forgot about that.' I think it's really special. I feel like I definitely want to continue my journey.
"If it means I stop at 16 or if it means I have more -- I definitely want to continue my journey to get a few more."
There is no reason she won't one day pass those two. As she showed Saturday, age is not an issue.