Justice Is Served

January 30, 2010 10:36 AM

The queen reigns again: Serena defends her Slam title

She reigns again. She stands tall atop women's tennis -- No. 1 without a bullet.

And, this time, she would walk off the court with no discontent in her wake, not like the last time she found herself on center stage at a Grand Slam event.

Do you remember it?

Back in September, in a Grand Slam as important as this latest one, the uncrowned queen of women's tennis had her infamous meltdown, displaying a temper and the kind of vulgarity unbecoming of a player of her regal stature.

Serena Williams lost to Kim Clijsters that day in what looked like a stunning, demoralizing defeat, a loss to a woman who, basically, had come into the U.S. Open fresh from retirement.

Williams found herself in a similar circumstance Saturday in the Australian Open. She was facing the newly unretired Justin Henin -- a Belgian star like Clijsters -- in the championship match of the year's first Grand Slam.

But unlike the finals in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., Williams, trying to defend her title in the land Down Under, would not explode into anger. She refused to allow the emotions of the moment to overwhelm her, and she didn't lose either.

Her 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over Henin was as pure a performance as Williams could ask of herself, all things considered. Tested from the start, she never gave a hint she wouldn't be up for the challenge, a challenge that the gifted Henin had always posed whenever she took the court against one of the Williams sisters.

Henin was playing the younger of the sisters; she was playing the better of the sisters - the sister who stood at No. 1 in the women's ranking, the sister who came into the Australian Open as the No. 1 seed, the sister who possessed the better and more consistent game, the sister with the more mercurial persona, the sister with the more determined mental approach to this elegant game of royalty.

Ignoring the Aussie crowd that cheered on Henin, Williams kept her game from unraveling against the tenacity of Henin, a shotmaker whose brilliance had long rivaled any woman's game - even the Williams sisters. For Henin had left women's tennis two years ago as the game's No. 1 player.

Unranked and unseeded this time, she played in this return to a Grand Slam event as if she wanted to reclaim that ranking. She showed no sign of rust -- nor of center-court nerves. She had outdueled seeded players from the beginning of the Australian Open until the finals. It was here that Henin ran into the best player on the women's tour.

Henin tested Serena Williams; Henin tested and pushed Williams hard. She drew the best out of Williams, who was forced to produce a performance worthy of someone who coveted greatness.
Williams did not disappoint. Her power and fitness proved too much for the artistic Henin to blunt.

Having split the first two sets, Williams found sat at 2-2 in the third set before reeling off four-straight games to dispatch Henin and secure her 12th Grand Slam title.

Again, Serena Williams was a Grand Slam champ, holding the trophy above her head as she paraded on center court. Again, she had illustrated the fortitude and the game-tested talent that have marked her brilliant career.

Her latest championship left no doubt, if any doubt still existed, that Serena Williams belonged in the discussion of the greatest women tennis players ever. She is in league with iconic players like Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

While some people will argue that Court, King, Evert, Navratilova and Graf had tennis games that were more complete, nobody will say that their games had the power of Williams'.

It is that power that has separated Williams from her contemporaries; it is that power she relies on when victory is in the balance; it is that power which will be her signature, the one thing that defines the Williams era.

And this is the Serena Williams era - as surely as tennis historians can look at the continuum and mark periods in which Court, King, Evert, Navratilova and Graf had their eras, when they lorded over the women's game.

None of them reigned with the style that Williams possesses.

Serena Williams is a champion of a different sort - a champion whose roots were not planted in private courts at country clubs but on public courts in California, a game she learned under the tutelage of a father who mastered the ins and outs of tennis from textbooks.

She might not be the textbook player or, of course, the complete player. But what she possesses is a champion's strength: power, mental toughness and an ability to rise to the moment.

Greatness is defined by those qualities. These are traits that have long separated the Muhammad Alis, the Andre Agassis, the Peyton Mannings, the Michael Jordans, the Tiger Woodses of the sports world: the greatest of the greats.

Those are traits embodied in Serena Williams - the Australian Open champion again, now the crowned queen of women's tennis, the best women's player of her time still.

A Member Of