Updated: August 12, 2011, 4:29 PM ET

Voila: Serena again the dominant force

Garber By Greg Garber
ESPN.com
Archive

After tossing her racket aside and placing her head in her hands, Serena Williams raised an index finger in a familiar gesture of triumph.

The WTA rankings do not yet agree with her impromptu assessment after she beat Marion Bartoli a week ago in the Bank of the West Classic final. Williams was actually ranked No. 169 at that moment and destined to rise 90 spots one day later to No. 79. She is currently No. 80 heading into the Rogers Cup quarterfinals.

But based on her run through a strong field in Stanford in only her third tournament back, she is again the best player in the women's game. Just like that.

Williams, who returned at Wimbledon after nearly a year absence from the game following a series of serious health misadventures, looked invincible one month after exiting in the fourth round at the All England Club. At Stanford, she:

• Bageled Anastasia Rodionova in the first round.

• Took down Wimbledon finalist and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova -- for the sixth straight time -- 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals in 69 minutes.

• Hammered Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.

• Defeated No. 9-ranked Bartoli -- who had beaten her at Wimbledon -- 7-5, 6-1 in the final.

"There are still shots I'm not going for and not making that I know I can make once I get more confident and more match play," Williams said. "I'll be able to make those. It's encouraging to me that I can do more. I can do better."

What will Williams be capable of if she finds any more confidence?

No matter what happens the rest of Toronto or the other tasty U.S. Open appetizer, Cincinnati, Serena will arrive in New York as one of the favorites, if not the favorite.

"Anything can happen," she said when asked by ESPN's Patrick McEnroe if she was the favorite. "I don't even think about that anymore."

It's probably just as well. For, even despite her history of quick turnarounds and 13 major titles, this is a fairly remarkable comeback. Williams will turn 30 just seven weeks after Roger Federer did Monday. She was the oldest of the quarterfinalists at Stanford -- by three years. The one-year-plus dry spell without a title was the second-longest of her career, going back to the two-year space between the 2005 and 2007 Australian Open championships.

To put it in a different context: Williams was the first American woman to win a singles title on U.S. soil since … Serena won the 2008 U.S. Open.

"Serena has come back before," Sharapova observed. "She's experienced enough to come back ready to play. She waited for the right time. When she comes back, she's ready."

As Bartoli discovered. The Frenchwoman was serving for the first set at 5-4, but Williams won eight straight games en route to her 38th WTA title.

5 Questions With …

… with Ryan Harrison

He first caught our collective eye as an 18-year at last year's U.S. Open, where he surprised No. 15-seeded Ivan Ljubicic in the first round. It was, many pointed out, the first major victory for an American teenager over a top-20 player since Andy Roddick beat No. 11 Alex Corretja in the 2001 U.S. Open. Harrison backed that up with a terrific run at Wimbledon, winning three qualifying matches, then beating No. 37-ranked Ivan Dodig in first round. Harrison, now 19, won two of first three sets against No. 6 David Ferrer in second, but lost in five sets.

Summer in America has been more kind. Harrison won his first ATP World Tour doubles title in Newport, R.I., then reached back-to-back singles semifinals in Atlanta and Los Angeles. He lost to top-ranked American Mardy Fish in both instances, but his ranking zoomed 12 spots, up to a career-high No. 82.

"He impressed me a lot even from Atlanta to L.A.," Fish said. "He easily could have beaten me there. Obviously 7-6 in the third is a kind of a coin flip, and I was really impressed with the way that he competes. He doesn't give up and get down on himself, even though he's young and inexperienced in that level. Yeah, he's going to be a great player."

Harrison lost in the second round at Washington but is a respectable 11-13 for the season. After his first-round victory over Mischa Zverev, Harrison spoke with ESPN.com about his burgeoning career.

ESPN.com: With two consecutive ATP semifinals, you've never had this kind of consistent success. What are you doing differently?

Harrison: A lot of it is mental. I've been a lot more professional in preparation and eating habits. I've been playing more within myself. It's nothing spectacular, just competing consistently. It's a simple concept, but difficult to achieve. You have to make sure you take care of your body, getting a massage, stretching properly, eating the right combination of proteins, carbs and so on.

ESPN.com: At age 19, how does it feel to be the second-youngest man in the ATP World Tour top 100 (behind Bernard Tomic)?

Harrison: No. 2, yeah, it's good. Still, it's not the youngest. With my competitiveness, I'm not very pleased with being behind someone. I'd like to be the youngest guy in the top 100.

ESPN.com: You've come back from a set down 12 times this year -- twice last week against Richard Berankis and Yen-Hsun Lu -- how does that happen?

Harrison: (Sighing) I don't know. I compete well, always put my heart into it. When my back's against the wall, it loosens up my game. I don't know if I finish strong -- or start slow. Lately, I've been warming up longer, trying to have a more intense warm-up. But in the long run, I don't care if the match is four hours or 12 hours -- as long as I win it.

ESPN.com: In that vein, you've also saved 63 percent of the break points against you -- a top-20 number -- why do you think you thrive on adversity?

Harrison: I think that's just the way my personality is. I don't necessarily think about it, you know, `Let's get to break point cause I handle it well.' I've been successful and fortunate. Obviously, not getting down is first goal, but when you so get down you feel you have a shot.

ESPN.com: Goals for the rest of the season?

Harrison: I want to keep moving up in the rankings. I want to have a good run at the U.S. Open. I can do that if I play well. I'd like to get to the top 50 pretty soon. If I can get to the top 30, I'd be seeded at the Australian Open.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?