Williams wins a third French Open crown

Flu-stricken Serena Williams has dragged herself out of bed to deny Czech underdog Lucie Safarova in a gripping French Open final and collect her 20th grand slam singles crown.

The world No.1 overcame nine double-faults and a mid-match meltdown to defeat Safarova 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 on Saturday to earn her third title in Paris after also reigning in 2002 and 2013.

The fighting win lifted Williams above 1920s legend Helen Wills-Moody into outright third place on the women’s all-time grand slam leaderboard.

Only Australian Margaret Smith Court, with 24 slams, and Steffi Graf (22) remain ahead of Williams, who could conceivably match the German’s open-era record haul by the end of the year.

After winning the French Open at 33 and claiming to have “never felt so sick” as in her dramatic three-set semi-final comeback against Timea Bacsinszky, the American will be a raging favourite to snare a sixth Wimbledon trophy next month and a seventh title at the US Open in September.

In an extraordinary display of longevity and domination, Safarova was Williams’ 12th grand slam final victim.

Her first scalp was Martina Hingis way back in 1999 in New York.

Since then, Williams has also accounted for older sister Venus – on six occasions – as well as Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Justine Henin, Vera Zvonareva, Agnieszka Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki in grand slam title matches.

Her only defeats in 24 major finals have come against Venus, Sharapova and Australian Samantha Stosur at the 2011 US Open.

Safarova, who had lost all eight previous encounters with Williams, threatened a huge boilover on Court Philippe Chatrier after stealing the second set and opening up a 2-0 buffer in the decider.

But Williams’ class and vast experience ultimately came to the fore as the top seed rallied back to take the thrilling match after two hours and one minute.

There was no suggestion early on that this would be anything but a routine day out for Williams.

The all-conquering world No.1 clubbed a ferocious forehand crosscourt return winner to break the left-hander in the fourth game before wrapping up the opening set in 31 minutes.

The American charged to a 4-1 lead in the second set before inviting Safarova back into the contest with an uncustomary display of serving yips.

The top seed twice coughed up double-faults on game points serving at 4-1 and 4-3 and, even after breaking Safarova for a fourth time, was unable to serve out the match at 6-5.

More double-faults and unforced errors flowed in the tiebreaker as Safarova’s relentless counter-punching – and Williams’ jitters – forced the deciding set.

But, not the first time she’s suffered grand slam final nerves, Williams steadied and, after winning one 19-shot rally that featured a desperate left-handed return to consolidate for a 5-2 lead, the top seed finally dismissed Safarova’s challenge.

At 33 years and 254 days young, Williams is the oldest women’s champion in Paris since Hungary’s Zsuzsi Kormoczy back in 1958.

Williams earned 1.8 million euros ($A2.6 million) for her latest grand slam triumph, taking her career on-court earnings to almost $90 million.

Safarova can console herself with a cheque for 900,000 euros ($A1.3 million) and a rise to a career-high world No.7 on Monday.

The first Czech finalist since Hana Mandlikova won the championship in 1981 will also feature in the women’s doubles decider on Sunday with American partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands against Australian Casey Dellacqua and Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova.

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