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Sony Ericsson Open

Serena sweats out Key win

At breaking point, she stops Jankovic

Serena Williams exults after overcoming the heat, her temper, and Jelena Jankovic to win her fifth Key Biscayne title. Serena Williams exults after overcoming the heat, her temper, and Jelena Jankovic to win her fifth Key Biscayne title. (Ruth Morris/Reuters)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Steven Wine
Associated Press / April 6, 2008

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Serena Williams sat in her chair wearing a weary grin as tournament workers prepared the court for the postmatch ceremony yesterday.

"A word of warning," someone told Williams. "The trophies are really hot because they've been sitting in the sun."

It took a long time on a hot day for Williams to claim her fifth Key Biscayne title. She blew a big lead, battled jitters, threw a tantrum, and finally finished off Jelena Jankovic, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, to win the Sony Ericsson Open.

The victory tested Williams's temper in the 85-degree sunshine. She broke her racket and screamed at herself before putting away an overhead slam on her eighth championship point.

"I thought I had like 15 match points. I'm glad to know it wasn't," Williams said. "I got tight. I guess you can classify that as nervous. It's me just feeling like, 'I'm almost there. I would hate to lose this match after being up so much.' "

She arrived trimmer at Key Biscayne, thanks to a recent rigorous training regimen, and needed to be in peak condition in the 2 1/2-hour final. Both players held up well in the heat, and some of their best rallies - one lasting 26 shots - came in the final few games.

But Williams also battled a bad case of butterflies down the stretch.

"Serena really had trouble closing out the match," Jankovic said. "She looked so nervous out there. I could never believe that a girl who has won so many Grand Slams, so many tournaments, could be that nervous closing out the match. It felt like it was her first time to win that tournament."

Instead, Williams won for the second year in a row and matched Steffi Graf's record of five women's titles at Key Biscayne.

"The Serena and Steffi Open," said Williams, who lives in nearby Palm Beach Gardens. "I love Steffi Graf. She's a great champion and was my role model. To even be compared to her is awesome."

Graf's husband, Andre Agassi, holds the men's record with six titles. Bidding for the men's championship today will be Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko.

Despite Williams's success at Key Biscayne and elsewhere, she has long been criticized for devoting too much time and energy to such interests as acting and fashion design. But tennis is now the No. 1 priority, she said.

"I wasn't making as much money, so I've got to go back to the bread and butter," she said with a laugh. "I feel like all I want to do is play tennis."

She's 14-1 this year, with her only loss to Jankovic in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.

At first it appeared the rematch might not last an hour. Jankovic, battling a cold, was outplayed for a set and a half and was three points from defeat before she began to find her form.

Williams started to spray nervous shots, lost her serve at love for 5-all, then double-faulted to lose set point and force a third set.

"I was thinking, 'Maybe she's going to be nice to me,' " Jankovic said.

Even the pro-Williams crowd applauded the dogged comeback by Jankovic, who had rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the third set to win her opening match. And there was more drama to come.

Angered by her lapse, Williams raced to a 5-0 lead in the third set but again wavered. She had her first championship point in the next game, another at 5-1, and three more at 5-2. Williams twice exhorted herself with screams but lost that game to make it 5-3, then slammed her racket against the hard court and sent the mangled remains skipping into the side wall.

"That was scary, to be honest," Jankovic said. "I told her after the match, 'You really smashed that racket to pieces.' She's like, 'I had to.' "

When asked about the tantrum at her postmatch news conference, Williams played coy.

"I smashed a racket?" she said. "My hand must have been really oily and sweaty. That's just not me."

Jankovic saved two more match points in the final game before Williams closed out the victory with her 51st winner. That total included 12 aces.

"She was just too strong," Jankovic said. "You know how I felt, to be honest? It's like a heavyweight champion, and I'm a feather champion, you know? That's how I felt. I cannot match up against her. Just too much power for me to handle."

Williams improved to 47-5 at Key Biscayne. Her reward: $590,000 and one hot trophy.

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