LONDON (Reuters) - She was born a fighter and on Saturday Serena Williams proved she is the ultimate survivor as she completed her “unbelievable journey” from a pit of despair to win a fifth Wimbledon crown.
Seventeen months after a life-threatening blood clot in her lungs almost ended her glittering tennis career, Williams blotted out the mental and physical scars to climb back into the grand slam winner’s circle by snuffing out Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 5-7 6-2.
Almost everyone but those closest to her thought the days when Williams would be holding aloft one of the four major trophies were all but over.
But at the age of 30, the American, who grew up practicing on cracked public courts in Compton surrounded by drug dealers and drive-by shootings, showed the world what she was still capable of as she blazed a backhand winner to win her 14th grand slam trophy.
It was little wonder she collapsed on to her back in her moment of glory and still lying on the ground, she covered her face for several seconds, no doubt thinking about all the injuries, illnesses and surgery she has had to endure in the past two years.
“I can’t even describe it. I almost didn’t make it a few years ago. I was in hospital but now I‘m here again and it was so worth it. I‘m so happy,” a beaming Williams, with her voice quivering, told the crowd as she hugged the Venus Rosewater Dish.
“I never dreamt of being here again, being so down,” added the American, whose tale of woe started when she sliced her foot on a piece of glass in a Munich restaurant soon after winning her 13th slam at Wimbledon in July 2010.
”I didn’t give up (even when I had the clot). I was just so tired at that point.
”Gosh, right before that I had the blood clot, I had lung problems. I had a tube in my stomach and it was draining constantly.
“I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot. I just felt down, the lowest of lows.”
On Saturday, she enjoyed the highest of the highs as she matched her sister Venus’s haul of five Wimbledon trophies by becoming the first 30-something to win the title since Martina Navratilova achieved the feat in 1990.
“Coming here and winning today is amazing because literally last year I was ranked almost 200. It’s been an unbelievable journey for me,” said the world number six.
That journey almost took a backward slide just five weeks ago when Serena lost in the opening round of the French Open, the first time she had exited so early from a grand slam tournament.
But just as many started writing Serena’s tennis obituary, she roared back to stop Radwanska from becoming the first Polish grand slam winner.
Radwanska’s title hopes had already looked rather bleak as not only had she never won a set against Serena before, but as she prepared for the biggest match of her career, she was already battling respiratory problems which she blamed on the rain and blustery winds of the non-existent British summer.
Saturday’s damp, chilly and gloomy conditions on Centre Court would have done little to lift Radwanska’s mood and it was not long before she was being blown away by a gale force named Serena.
As Serena moved within one point of blanking out Radwanska from the first set, it led one fan to tweet “this final will be over before you can put a kettle on”.
Radwanska could have done with a hot drink herself as she sniffled and coughed during the changeovers and she got a chance to warm her throat when the players were briefly forced off court at the end of the first set when a slight drizzle started to fall.
The short respite did nothing to halt Serena’s charge as she steamed to a 4-2 lead. But just when it seemed that Serena would be wrapping up one of the most one-sided Wimbledon finals, Radwanska’s game suddenly caught fire and she leveled for 4-4.
The 23-year-old Pole drew Serena into lengthy rallies and when the American netted a backhand to surrender the second set, the crowd erupted into wild applause.
Serena, though, is not one for cowering and one 49-second blitz summed up her intentions. She fired four thunderbolt aces to win the fourth game of the third set, and from then on, her opponent never got a look in.
Serena followed up her 102nd ace of the tournament with a screaming service winner to bring up matchpoint, and seconds later it was all over.
“I‘m still shaking so much. I think I had the best two weeks of my life. She was too good today, but I‘m just so happy to be here in the final. I think it was not my day but I’ll try again next year,” a sobbing Radwanska said during the presentation ceremony.
Serena then rounded off a successful day for the Williams clan as she and Venus joined forces to capture a fifth Wimbledon doubles title, beating Czech sixth seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 7-5 6-4.
While Serena was off to sort out her outfit for the champions ball, Roger Federer was getting ready to strike a double blow for the 30-somethings when he takes on British hope Andy Murray in the men’s final on Sunday.
A Serena-Federer triumph would mean it would be the first time since 1975 when both Wimbledon singles titles have been won by the over 30s.
Jonathan Marray kicked off what could be a weekend of national euphoria for British tennis when he became the first home player since 1936 to win the Wimbledon men’s doubles title with Danish partner Frederik Nielsen.
Just a day before near-namesake Murray hopes to end Britain’s 76-year wait for a men’s singles champion, wildcards Marray and Nielsen sent the Centre Court crowd into a frenzy after downing fifth seeds Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau 4-6 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-3.
Editing by Toby Davis