Amidst brooding clouds in Rome, Keys’ serving was in fine form as she took advantage of a sluggish start by Serena Williams to swiftly jump out to a 3-1 lead, breaking the World No. 1 to love in the opening game. Williams, hunting her first title in nine months gradually wound her way back into the match, eroding Keys’ lead and breaking to level at 3-3.
The pair stayed competitive through to a first set tie-break with momentum switching back and forth at the start but gradually the three-time champion pulled ahead. Keys was not done yet, pulling back the deficit to level 5-5 before losing the mini-break to give Williams the set point, and she only needed the one chance to go ahead.
The tide had turned. Williams struck first at the start of the second set, decisively, breaking twice before the change of ends, before Keys at least claimed one of the breaks back. William tried to go for the kill, but Keys grabbed the break back again.
Williams made sure of the final blow, breaking one last time for the title. She wowed the crowd with a smattering of Italian in her victory speech at the trophy presentation, but not before letting Keys know that she may well be the US heiress apparent.
As reported by WTATennis.com, Williams played down her victory a little, mindful of the pressures that will be on her to defend her title in Paris.
She said: “I feel like it was important for me to just go out there like usual. It’s a totally new match, it’s a different week, you know, and hopefully just win one. If not, hope for next time, next week.
“I think she’s such a powerful player,” Williams continued. “Obviously going in, I knew that, but I was just trying. I think I was pretty much able to just get back what I could, you know, and that’s all I was trying to do was just to go out there and be consistent, and make my shots.”
For Keys it was a fantastic run for the girl who joked that she had come to terms with the fact she could not get around the clay court season.
She said, in WTATennis.com: “I think no matter how many times you play Serena, you always go in and you can just feel her presence. That’s always an extra thing that you have to be worried about during the match.
“But for me today it really wasn’t so much about how big the tournament was or anything like that. It was really just wanting to go out and do my best and give my best performance.”
Perhaps Rome provides the better form guide – the clay and the conditions are the closest the players will get to Paris, and while a lot will be made about snapping that title drought, it is still the Slams she yearns for and perhaps without the pressure on her from last year, she might be spurred on to chase that elusive record held by Graf.
Is Williams ‘back’? Well there is no doubt it will do wonders for her confidence – it cannot help but have been a little battered from the autumn months of 2015 to date. But do not be surprised to see her play herself into gear in France. This is the one slam that still seems to be the most open.
Roland Garros begins on 22 May.
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