Tampa Bay Sports Day

Serena Downs Safrina to Win Fourth Open

If there was such a thing as perfect, Serena Williams was pretty close in conquering Russian Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-3 to claim her fourth Australian Open before a capacity Rod Laver Arena Saturday night.

Whatever it is about odd years, the 27 year-old American reclaimed the world No.1 ranking by putting on a stunning display of championship tennis that’s made her a great grand slam champion. She’s now won the Australian Open title in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009 also doubling the trophy case by teaming with older sister Venus Williams to win women’s doubles as well in 2001, 2003 and sweeping past Ai Sugiyama and Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-3 the previous day.

The four Australian singles titles allowed her to join the likes of Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Steffi GrafMonica Seles for most wins in Melbourne during the Open Era. Not only did she join this exclusive group but also with her 10th major became the fourth woman in the Open Era to reach double digits trailing the great Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (18 each) along with Graf, who holds the record with 22. and

“I idolized Steffi Graf growing up and Martina Navratilova was my role model, so when I think of those names I can’t even think of myself there. But people are starting to think about me that way, and that’s just uber-cool,” a respectful Williams expressed of being mentioned in the same breath.

“I was a little nervous actually going into the match against Dinara, then I told myself that I had nothing to lose even though everyone was putting the pressure on me. I didn’t want to lose that focus. Dinara’s a warrior, and she never gives up.”

Having been in a zone helping carry big sis to the double crown leaving her to heap praise, an extremely focused Serena was able to carry it over into the singles final versus the talented No.3 seed Safina. The younger sister of Marat Safin had gotten to this point by outlasting tournament story Jelena Dokic in three sets and then straight setting countrywoman Vera Zvonareva.

One area the physically gifted 22 year-old who was a runner-up at Roland Garros last year and took a silver medal in Beijing she was struggling in was her serve with an awkward delivery causing numerous double faults even in previous wins making life difficult just to make it to this point.

Unfortunately, that proved to be her undoing against a razor sharp Williams who was firing on all cylinders from the outset breaking all three times in a dominant first set that lasted only 22 minutes. Early on, Safina double faulted three times leading to a first break. When she was getting serves in, they were getting pummeled by the game’s best returner who greeted a few rudely smacking return winners from both sides.

Just how dominant was she in the opening set? Safina only won eight total points with a very accurate Serena accumulating 12 of 23 winners with little her overwhelmed opponent could do.

When an errant Safina forehand hit the net, the set was mercifully over with it reminding many of how Williams dismantled Maria Sharapova 6-1. 6-2 in the same match two years prior limiting her to just three games.

The resilient Russian didn’t give up attacking and breaking Serena in the opening game of the second set producing some of her best tennis including a backhand winner and return backhand crosscourt off a short second serve to the crowd’s delight.

The growing question was could she make it a match by holding? Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as Williams continued her all out assault to break back. She then backed it up with a love hold booming her first serve. Not stunningly, she was nearly perfect taking 20 of 21 points (95 percent) on first serve for the match.

Safina couldn’t recover getting broken a fifth consecutive time before Williams had another easy hold to go up 4-1- two games from winning her 10th slam and reaching No.1 again for the third time.

Even when she competed striking the ball hard to win some points, you never got the sense Safina could comeback. By the time she held for 2-4, it was too little too late against a player who as she noted during the postmatch interview on court was, “Too good.”

To her credit, she forced Williams to serve it out. Serena calmly did just that setting up triple championship point before claiming her fourth Aussie crown when a Safina backhand drop shot went just wide allowing the great champion to bend down and smile clenching her fists.

It was a muted celebration exhibiting class after how she outclassed a quality opponent who should be back competing for other slams perhaps even winning one this year. It just wasn’t to be on this day.

“I absolutely, clearly, love playing here,” a very happy Williams said appropriately adding:

“You guys root for me so much. I don’t get that everywhere. So thank you so much.”

Who could disagree?