Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

*An unusually mild Sunday afternoon in Flushing, New York,  just two hours before the 2014 US Open ladies final, found WTA tour besties, Serena Williams, 32, and Caroline Wozniacki, 24, both out on the practices courts, with only a few unused courts separating them, getting in their last bit of practice before the big showdown.

Serena was about her business, trading thumping groundstrokes with her hitting partner, Sascha Bajin, while coach Patrick Mouratoglou looked on, but Wozniacki was a little distracted. She’d hit a few balls back across the net coming from her hitting partner, Marta Domachowska, but then she’d stop and take a glances down the courts at Serena’s pre-match regimen. No doubt a combination of nerves and hope she had to be feeling with each glance regarding the outcome of her first Grand Slam final in 5 years.   This time was against her friend, but more importantly a woman on a mission of redemption and history making, the indomitable Serena.

The pair had played one another on nine different occasions, with Serena winning the head-to-head 8-1 (Miami), but never in a Grand Slam final. In fact, Wozniacki had only been to one GS final in her entire career:  the US Open in 2009, which she lost to Belgian Kim Clijsters.

Wozniacki had held the world no.1 ranking for 67 weeks and was known for her superior defensive skills, which helped her wear down opponents and win matches. But in a Slam, all players are on deck and as she would get deeper in such tournaments, she would face big hitters like Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who would all nullify her defense with match dominating offense. Since then, however, she worked to fine-tuned her game and began to beef up her serve and groundstrokes to better hang with those she couldn’t phase before.

As payoff for her work, whereas her earlier matches with Serena Williams more decidedly one-sided, their last two meeting leading up to this US Open went to three close sets, with Williams still winning, but being pushed to the hilt to do so. Further building the momentum, she, for the first time in all their meetings, knocked out a wobbly, but always formidable Sharapova in the US Open round of 16, gaining confidence she hadn’t had before. Her work to build viable weapons coupled with a return to focus – or personal revenge – after being dumped by her then-fiancee, golf pro, Rory Mcllroy, was paying dividends, finding her with a chance to finally earn her first Grand Slam win that’s been so elusive throughout her career.

She likely wouldn’t have preferred the barrier between she and the top prize be an in-form Serena Williams who arrived at her 8th US Open final without having dropped a set and not allowing her opponents to get more than three games per. But it was what it was and not being one to shrink back from a challenge, she did her due diligence and took to Arthur Ashe court to battle it out with her friend.

Serena came into the hard court season as an emotionally fragile woman. Her 2013 had been perhaps the best tennis season of her life, winning 11 tour titles, 2 Grand Slams and two Olympic Gold medals, but 2014 was a different story. She was knocked out before reaching the semifinals in the three Grand Slams (Alize Cornet [Wimbledon], Garbine Muguruza [French Open] and Ana Ivanovic [Australian Open]) previous to the US Open and her last appearance on grass, at Wimbledon in a doubles match with her sister saw her forfeit the match due to disorientation inducing viral illness.

Never one to take setbacks lying down (her spectacular 2013 season was on the heels of a shocking first round loss at the French Open to a much lesser opponent), she burst onto the US Open Series hard courts winning 2 titles (titles) and reaching the semis of the Cincinnati Open. Her performance even qualified her to win an extra $1 million dollars if she wins the US Open title.

Her “resurgence” had been the story of the late summer and tennis prognosticators were eager to see if it would transfer to the last major of the year, the US Open, where she’s the two-time defending champion. There was understandable uncertainty because regular tour titles hadn’t been her bugaboo in 2014; she’s won more titles this year than any of her WTA cohorts, but she just couldn’t produce at the majors. Her dominance over these two weeks at Flushing Meadows, which has led to her earning the opportunity to compete in the final for her 6th US Open title and history making 18th GS win overall, however, has silenced her critics and assured her fans that she’s still “the one to beat.”

Serena was so dominant in 2013 till even with her lackluster Slam performance this year she’s still guaranteed to hang on to her no.1 ranking beyond the tournament and she’s at no. 1 on the year-end Road to Singapore leaderboard. A woman on a mission she’s been called and, with her 18th major title win, she would be in the minds of many the best female athlete that has ever lived.

That’s the woman who was going to be on the other side of the net from Wozniacki during the final.

Who was hungry enough and had the most to prove to walk away with the win? Was it the GS title-less Dane or the history hungry American?

It was decided in a two-set virtual blow out with Serena Williams digging in to rewrite history and prove to herself and her fans that she wasn’t done. Wozniacki was gracious in defeat, but she was no match for a hungry Serena, arguably the best female athlete the world has ever seen.  Serena dominated nearly every point and had Wozniacki on the run for the entire match, outclassing the Dane in every department.  Serve, check…110 – 120mph.  Groundstrokes, check…too powerful to handle.  Returns, check…punishing serves with clean winners off the cuff.

It’s been said that the outcome of her matches are always on her racquet and her performance on Sunday is why.  Some may trouble her when she’s not fully engaged (as did Wozniacki their last two meetings), but when she decides she must win, she usually does, no matter the opponent.

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

Serena won match point, collapsed to the court and covered her face. She had done it, defending the title in just over an hour and took home a tennis payout record total of $4 million in prize money, along with a Tiffany 18k bracelet (representing 18 Slams won) presented to her by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, whom she now shares a page with in the history books.

“It just means so much to me,” she gushed.  “I just never thought I’d be mentioned with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.”

Congrats to Serena Williams, the reigning “Queen of New York” for winning her 6th total and 3rd consecutive US Open title and 18th total Grand Slam at 32 years young.