Lucie Safarova gave it a right old go against Serena Williams in the women's singles final of the French Open, coming ever so close to clinching here first Grand Slam crown, but Serena, sick or not, found a way past the likeable left-hander to clinch a third Roland Garros title and a brilliant 20th Grand Slam crown overall with a gutsy 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-2 win.
Serena's plan was pretty simple, serve big, look for return winners off Safarova's serve and keep the points as short as possible. That is usual the Serena plan, of course, but this time it was heightened just that touch owing to her health, with the American not exactly looking 100 percent.
Her tennis was certainly near 100 percent, though, particularly in the first set and a bit, as winners came firing away with ridiculous ease off her racquet, with Safarova able to do little but shake her head at being overpowered so comfortably.
The first set only had the one break – the break coming via a ripper of a service return -- but it was more than enough for Serena, who took it 6-3 in just 31 minutes. Such was the quickness of the set that the average shots per point was around the 3 mark.
Serena was expected to run away with the second set as well, and it looked like she was going to do just that as she jumped to a 4-1 lead with a serve to come. However, Safarova refused to lie down and play dead, and finally found some sort of form, breaking Serena in the sixth game – via her first break points of the match -- to make it 4-2, before holding her serve impressively to pull even closer.
It looked like we would finally have a match on our hands as Safarova broke the Serena serve for the second straight game, to make it 4-4, before taking the lead in the second set at 5-4.
If there were doubts that Williams might wilt under the pressure, as the crowd also got behind Safarova wanting a proper contest, the 33-year-old showed just why she is one of the all-time greats, bringing out the big guns to first hold for 5-5, before pulling out a couple of outstanding shots, including a nice backhand winner on break point to take a 6-5 lead.
Serving for the set, it looked like Serena had the title it in the bag, but Safarova turned on the style in that 12th game, going for the lines with every shot, knowing there was nothing to lose, and doing it four times to win the game to 30.
A tie-breaker it was in the second set, and Safarova again took control, getting a couple of mini-breaks early as Williams felt the pressure, hitting a double fault and a backhand into the net to go down 0-3. One of the longest rallies of the match followed as both players banged some belters from the baseline with Serena getting one mini-break back.
It was still Safarova's to lose, though, leading 4-2 at the change of ends, and she racked up three points in a row to take the breaker 7-2 and the set 7-6.
At the start of the decider, it looked like Safarova had solved the Serena puzzle, running to a 2-0 lead to set herself up for a massive win and her first Grand Slam. However, champions are made of sterner stuff, and Serena, whose rhythm and serve had deserted her from the middle of the second set, got those big guns firing again, winning five games in a row to put herself on the brink of a 20th Grand Slam title.
Safarova was now flustered, and could do nothing as Serena won her sixth game on the bounce to clinch a ridiculous 20th Major, and move to within two of Steffi Graf's record in the Open era.