Serena Williams was asked last week what the number 18 meant to her.
“It means legal to do some things,” she said with a laugh.
But she knew what the reporter was getting at.
“It also means legendary,” she added more seriously.
She would not go so far as to call herself legendary – “I’m just Serena,” she said – but she joined some elite company Sunday, when she tied Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with her 18th Grand Slam singles title.
The top-ranked Williams defeated Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3, to capture her third U.S. Open final in a row and sixth overall. (Match in pics)
Williams had not advanced past the fourth round of a Grand Slam event this year, and over the past two weeks she has expressed relief and excitement at her success at the U.S. Open. (Serena Williams vows to continue her unstoppable march)
“It was a pleasure to win my first Grand Slam here and now No. 18,” said an emotional Williams, who first won the U.S. Open in 1999 at age 17.
She was a dominant force once again in Flushing Meadows, never losing more than three games in a set.
Considering that, Williams seemed to be almost comically modest when she said in her prematch interview that she would “try to hang in there” against Wozniacki, whom she had beaten in eight of their previous nine meetings.
But that was what was required as both players made a mess of the first set. There were five service breaks in a row, with Wozniacki holding serve for the first time in the match in the eighth game, trailing by 2-5.
When Williams served for the set at 5-3, a fan in the upper deck felt the need to shout, “Settle down, Serena!”
Williams closed out the set, but it was not one either player will want to save for posterity.
Williams had 28 errors, Wozniacki 21. Williams got only 41 percent of her first serves in, and won only 41 percent of her second-serve points. Wozniacki got only 58 percent of her first serves in, and won only 27 percent of her second-serve points. Wozniacki had three doubles faults, Williams two. At least Williams had 15 winners; Wozniacki had one, an ace. (Wozniacki undaunted by Serena setback)
Williams did settle down in the second set. In the first game, she won a 20-shot rally when a backhand clipped the net cord and dropped over to give Williams two break points. She broke Wozniacki on the next point, and then started dominating service games. Williams lost only four points on her serve, one on a double fault, for the rest of the match.
She broke Wozniacki one more time at 3-5 to win the match, winning a 26-shot rally to go ahead in the game, 15-30, and finishing it with a pair of forehands that Wozniacki could not handle.
Williams collapsed onto her back and dissolved into tears.
Williams emerged from a women’s draw decimated by upsets. She was the only player among the top nine seeds to reach the quarterfinals, and Wozniacki, the No. 10 seed, was the highest seed Williams faced.
Wozniacki, a 24-year-old Dane who held the No. 1 ranking for 67 weeks in 2010 and 2011, was in only her second Grand Slam final, having reached the U.S. Open final in 2009.
Her appearance in the final capped a resurgent summer. Since losing in the first round of the French Open, her first tournament after golfer Rory McIlroy broke off their engagement in May, Wozniacki is 25-6, with three of losses coming to Williams.
Despite the on-court results against Williams, Wozniacki considers Williams one of her closest friends and has said that Williams was a vital source of support during a difficult period in her life.
“You’re an unbelievable champion and an inspiration to me on and off the court,” Wozniacki said to Williams after the match, adding, “You definitely owe drinks later.”