Olympics: Serena Wins Golden Slam

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GLEEFUL TRIUMPH: WILLIAMS CRUSHES SHARAPOVA 6-0, 6-1 AT WIMBLEDON

It Is often said that Serena Williams would easily be the best player of all time if she could just got her mind, body and intent in alignment. “When she’s fit, when she’s committed, when she wants something, nothing and nobody can stop her,” said Mary Carillo.

But for too long Serena had been swearing at umps on New York courts, stepping on glass in Munich bars or struggling for her life in an L.A. hospital. She should have won last year’s U.S. Open final against Sam Stosur but stunk up the gym. In the first round in Paris she lost in tears to Virginie Razzano in Paris and then she was almost bounced out of Wimbledon by Uzbekistan’s overachieving Yaroslava Svetava and China’s Jie Zheng.

Then, in the Wimbledon semis, she would face the soon-to-be No. 1 player in the world – young Victoria Azarenka – and something clicked. Mind, body, intent aligned. She found her groove. Here was an athlete who got in gear at the right time.

She began serving like a demon and proceeded to unleash a five-week run of dominance like no other. She demolished Azarenka, side-stepped some nerves to beat the not-so-mighty Agnieszska Radwanska to win her fifth Wimbledon, overcame some mighty jet lag to win the Bank of the West Classic back in California and then turned around and caught Olympic fever.

Nabbing obscure Olympic pins – say from the Congo or Niger – seemed more of a challenge than winning matches. It didn’t matter if she was under the closed roof of Centre Court or the open skies of  Court One: if her foe was the former No. 2 player in the world Vera Zvonereva or former No. 1 players Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki or the current No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. This was “beat down city” – powerful, merciless, unsparing.  En route to the final, she lost a paltry 15 games, blasted 50 aces and twice won bagel sets – 6-0. Here was tennis’ answer to the basketball Dream Team beating Nigeria by 83 points or Tiger Woods winning the ’97 Masters by 12 strokes.

But maybe the final would be different. Serena – who had two doubles gold medals – craved a singles gold to become (with Steffi Graf) the second woman to claim the Golden Slam: all four major Slams and the Gold.

So maybe there would be pressure, and like the US and Wimbledon finals, she would have to battle her nerves. Plus, Serena would now be facing the other great diva, the other great brand in the game and the other great player from L.A.  – California’s most celebrated Russian, Maria Sharapova.

Just two months ago, in the uber-mercurial world of WTA tennis, the blonde had been the bomb as she claimed her own career Slam by winning the French title and climbed to No. 1. Tough and focused, the Russian adores the big moment. In her first day at the Olympics she relished carrying the Russian flag in the Opening ceremony. But in her last day at the Olympics she would – with little ceremony – be dismissed. Maybe Serena, the best revenge player in women’s tennis, still recalled that Centre Court day in ’04 when she lost the Wimbledon final to 17-year old Sharapova.

Forget it! Of late Serena had owned Sharapova and, more than this, Williams was now on a mission. Bad calls, bad hair days, gusty conditions, Royal fans Kate and William and deep Sharapova returns barely phased her. Filled with a laser intent, she hardly seemed to take a breath as she won the first eight points of the match. Her flawless service motion flowed with ease – such power.. She stepped in to uncork backhand returns which puffed the baseline. Proud Maria was frustrated. Even when Serena was off balance, she flicked considerable forehands from far off court.

When she wasn’t futilely dashing corner to corner, Sharapova had her moments. She won a Hawkeye challenge in the first set (yippee) and managed to get two break points opportunities to get back on serve in the second set.

It didn’t matter. Of late, Serena has been plucking the wings off the world’s best. And when she blasted her 60th ace of the Olympics, she claimed the gold 6-0, 6-1 in the most lopsided final since Suzanne Lenglen’s win in ’24.

Elated and filled with glee, Serena leaped and pranced and did a cool jig – right there on Centre Court. Everything was perfect.

Wrong.  Officials for Wimbledon and the Olympics (who do pomp and ceremony better than anyone in sports) watched in dismay as, midway during the medals ceremony, the American flag flew free in the wind and fell to the ground before the Royal Box.

Still, on-court and off – Serena’s returns were flawless. She quipped that the American banner “was probably flying to come hug me because the flag was so happy.’’