Sunday, July 31, 2011

Serena tops ailing Bartoli for title

   STANFORD -- It was all so ironic.
   Serena Williams, who returned to the circuit in June after enduring serious health problems, benefited from Marion Bartoli's injury Sunday in the final of the Bank of the West Classic. Bartoli, in turn, had played only one set in the quarterfinals and semifinals combined because of her opponents' injuries.
   The unseeded Williams, playing in only the third tournament of her comeback, defeated
the third-seeded Bartoli of France 7-5, 6-1 for her first title since Wimbledon last year. It was also Williams' first crown at Stanford, first in a non-Grand Slam or season-ending tournament in more than three years and first on the U.S. summer circuit since 2000.
   After delivering a 113-mph service winner on her first match point, Williams joyously dropped her racket, put her head in her hands and raised her fists in triumph.
   "I'm really happy because I put a lot of work into this week," said the former world No. 1, who will rise from No. 169 to the top 80. "It was a relief because Marion is always coming back."
   Not this time. Pounding her serve and dominating rallies with her two-handed forehand and backhand, Bartoli led 4-2 in the first set. In the sixth game, however, the right-hander apparently jammed her right hand with her racket and bruised a bone. Williams won 10 of the next 11 games, including eight in a row after Bartoli served for the first set at 5-4.
   "I was not able to grip the racket on my serve and forehand," said Bartoli, who lost five straight service games, double-faulting six times in the first four, after the injury.
   Bartoli, ranked a career-high ninth, didn't want to use the injury as an excuse but admitted that it "disturbed me. I can still walk away saying I played some great tennis in the first seven games." She said she plans to practice this week and play in Toronto next week.
   Williams, meanwhile, reduced her errors and dominated on her serve, reputedly the best in the history of women's tennis, when the sun wasn't in her eyes. She finished with 11 aces.
   "(Bartoli) was playing really aggressively and well," Williams said of her early deficit. "I was not doing what I could have done. I had to bring up the level of my game. She's clearly a brilliant player."
   Bartoli appeared in the Bank of the West final for the third time in four years. Her only title came in 2009, when she upset Venus Williams in the final. Last month, Bartoli defeated Serena in straight sets in the fourth round at Wimbledon for her first career victory over the American star after two losses.
   Serena has improved since Wimbledon, Bartoli said.
   "Absolutely. I said it even before the match. She has improved from Monday to today, so you can imagine how much she has improved in one month," Bartoli said.    
   Shortly after winning Wimbledon last year for her 13th Grand Slam singles title, Williams stepped on broken glass at a restaurant and twice had surgery. Then she suffered life-threatening blood clots, extending her layoff to 11 months.
   "I love winning majors, obviously, but I feel so blessed to be out here," Williams said. "You never know what tomorrow brings."
   In the doubles final, second-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Maria Kirilenko of Russia routed top-seeded Liezel Huber of Houston and Lisa Raymond of Wayne, Pa., 6-1, 6-3.
   Raymond, 37, leads active players with 70 career doubles titles. Huber, a 34-year-old American citizen originally from South Africa, ranks fourth with 44.

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