KEY BISCAYNE (AP) – Serena Williams screamed at herself, broke her racket and then finally finished off Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 for her fifth title at the Sony Ericsson Open on April 5.
Williams survived some shaky moments in the last set and an improbable comeback by Jankovic, who trailed 5-3 in the second set. Williams closed out the elusive victory on her eighth championship point with an overhead slam.
“I thought I had like 15 match points. I'm glad to know it wasn’t,” Williams said. “I got tight. I guess you can classify that as nervous. … It’s me just feeling like, ‘I'm almost there. I would hate to lose this match after being up so much.’”
She arrived at Key Biscayne a trimmer Williams, thanks to a recent rigorous training regimen, and needed to be in peak condition in the 21/2-hour final. Both players held up well in the heat, and some of their best rallies – one lasting 26 shots – came in the final few games.
But Williams also battled a bad case of butterflies.
“Serena really had trouble closing out the match,” Jankovic said. “She looked so nervous out there. I could never believe that a girl who has won so many Grand Slams, so many tournaments, could be that nervous closing out the match. It felt like it was her first time to win that tournament.”
Instead, Williams won for the second year in a row and matched Steffi Graf's record of five women’s titles at Key Biscayne.
“The Serena and Steffi Open,” said Williams, who lives in nearby Palm Beach Gardens. “I love Steffi Graf. She’s a great champion and was my role model. To even be compared to her is awesome.”
Graf's husband, Andre Agassi, holds the men's record with six titles.
Despite Williams’ success at Key Biscayne and elsewhere, she has long been criticized for devoting too much time and energy to such interests as acting and fashion design. But tennis is now the No. 1 priority, she said.
“I wasn't making as much money, so I’ve got to go back to the bread and butter,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like all I want to do is play tennis.”
She's 14-1 this year, with her only loss to Jankovic in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
At first it appeared the rematch might not last an hour. Jankovic, battling a cold, was outplayed for a set and a half and three points from defeat before she began to find her form.
Williams started to spray nervous shots, lost her serve at love for 5-all, then double-faulted to lose set point and force a third set.
“I was thinking, ‘Maybe she’s going to be nice to me,’” Jankovic said.
Even the pro-Williams crowd applauded the dogged comeback by Jankovic, who had rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the third set to win her opening match. And there was more drama to come.
Angered by her lapse, Williams raced to a 5-0 lead in the third set but again wavered. She had her first championship point in the next game, another at 5-1 and three more at 5-2. Williams twice exhorted herself with screams but lost that game to make it 5-3, then slammed her racket against the hard court and sent the mangled remains skipping into the side wall.
“That was scary, to be honest,” Jankovic said. “I told her after the match, ‘You really smashed that racket to pieces.’ She's like, ‘I had to.’”
When asked about the tantrum at her post match news conference, Williams played coy.
“I smashed a racket?” she said. “My hand must have been really oily and sweaty. That's just not me.”
Jankovic saved two more match points in the final game before Williams closed out the victory with her 51st winner. That total included 12 aces.
“She was just too strong,” Jankovic said. “You know how I felt, to be honest? It’s like a heavyweight champion, and I’m a feather champion, you know? That's how I felt. I cannot match up against her. Just too much power for me to handle.”
Williams improved to 47-5 at Key Biscayne.
Photo by Alan Diaz/ AP Photo. Serena Williams holds her trophy after her 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 win against Jelena Jankovic during the finals match at the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne on Saturday, April 5.