PARIS (Reuters) - Nothing, absolutely nothing could stop Serena Williams winning her 20th grand slam singles title and the American joyously bounced around in delight as she hoisted the glistening French Open trophy on Saturday.
It was a victory that seemed unlikely 24 hours earlier as she battled the debilitating effects of the flu.
It was a victory that seemed unlikely as she raged at allowing a 6-3 4-1 40-15 lead slip through her fingers in the second set against Lucie Safarova.
It was a victory that seemed unlikely 20 minutes earlier when Safarova had broken for a 2-0 lead in the third set.
Yet Williams is not considered one of the all-time greats for nothing and she screamed, shouted and roared her way to a 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2 victory over the Czech 13th seed.
As Williams celebrated by raising both arms and looking skywards, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou held up two fingers with one hand and shaped an 0 with the other to signal her 20th triumph.
“It has been a nightmare 48 hours,” said the 33-year-old.
“When you have the flu your whole body aches. That’s what I have been dealing with,” Williams added following a third Roland Garros victory which left her only behind Margaret Court (24) and Steffi Graf (22) on the list of leading major winners.
“It makes this trophy really special. I really wanted it. I wanted to win so bad.
“I can’t believe I won but it’s cool,” added Williams after being presented with the trophy by fellow American Martina Navratilova.
The result also left her one Wimbledon trophy away from completing what she calls the ‘Serena Slam’ — holding all four slams at the same time — for the second time in her career having achieved the feat in 2003.
Twelve years ago Novak Djokovic was little known in tennis circles but on Sunday he can add his name to the greats as he bids to become the eighth man to claim a career grand slam.
He earned that opportunity by subduing British third seed Andy Murray 6-3 6-3 5-7 5-7 6-1 to set up a final showdown with Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka.
“This is the kind of situation that you work for the entire year, to get yourself in a position to play against one of the biggest rivals and to fight for major titles,” said the Serb.
“I’m just glad I overcame the challenge,” Djokovic added after beating Murray for the eighth successive time.
Williams had an 8-0 record over Safarova going into the final and at 6-3 4-1 40-15 up it seemed only a matter of time before that would turn into 9-0 — prompting one booming male voice to sing out from the stands “Serena’s on firrrrrre”.
But if Williams was feeling “lousy” 24 hours earlier as she battled flu, it was nothing compared to the fury she felt when she surrendered two successive serves with double faults to lose four games on the trot.
It was now Safarova who was on fire and the 13th seed, bidding to become the first Czech woman to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since Hana Mandlikova in 1981, stormed through the tiebreak 7-2 before breaking again in the opening game of the third.
Williams saw red and obscenities flowed from her mouth — earning her a warning — while she angrily flung the official red and black tournament towels away from her chair.
The explosion had the desired effect as she channeled her anger to hit some audacious shots, including a left-handed forehand midway through a 19-stroke rally that she won.
The woman who had survived four three-set battles to reach the showpiece match — including a semi-final against 23rd-seeded Swiss Timea Bacsinszky when she was totally out of sorts — was determined to go the distance again.
Williams won the last six games to complete a remarkable triumph that had looked nigh on impossible at several stages of the tournament and was testimony to her sheer determination.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Julien Pretot and Ken Ferris