Serena Williams claims fourth Rome Masters title to end a nine-month title drought
Williams breaks a title drought stretching to last August as the top seed wins an all-American final over Madison Keys 7-6 (7-5), 6-3
Serena Williams broke a title drought stretching to last August as the top seed won an all-American final over Madison Keys 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 to claim the Rome Masters for a fourth time on Sunday.
Williams had not lifted a trophy since Cincinnati on August 23. She defeated her compatriot for the third time as she won the 70th title of her career in just under 90 minutes.
“It feels great to win a title, especially on clay,” Williams said as she prepared to shift her focus to the French Open starting next Sunday.
“I’m very content with this victory. It’s an important one for me. My patience was really great. I wasn’t stressed out. I wasn’t rushing too much.
“I was able to do what I practiced, that’s what really helped me out. I’m ready for Roland Garros now, I’m very concentrated.
“I feel really good about Paris. After my first few rounds here, I started feeling better. I’m feeling pretty fit. So, I’m looking forward to it.”
Williams claimed the honours in Rome in 2002 and more than a decade later as she won in 2013 and 2014.
She draws level with four-time winners Conchita Martinez and Gabriela Sabatini, with that pack trailing five-time winner Chris Evert, who played seven finals.
The 34-year-old Williams had reached finals in two of three previous events this season, save Miami where she lost in the fourth round.
Williams and Keys were competing in the first Rome final between Americans since 1970, when Billie Jean King beat Julie Heldman. An American pair last played a final on clay at the French Open, 2002, when Serena beat her sister Venus.
Keys held a 3-1 lead in the first set before being overhauled by Williams. The set went to a tiebreaker, with Williams claiming the lead after 71 minutes under grey skies with rain holding off.
Williams opened up a 3-1 margin in the second set but lost her way briefly as Keys clawed back, winning eight straight points for 2-3.
But the surge was not enough, with the experienced Williams regaining control and breaking for 5-2.
Keys had a final moment with her break as Williams served for the match; the 21-year-old challenger went down a game later to lose with a forehand return wide down the line.
“Everyone says I looked really calm and relaxed. I wasn’t,” Keys said. “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.
“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.
“This gives me some confidence, just having some matches on red clay. You always want to go into a slam feeling good and feeling like you’re match-ready.”
Keys, the WTA 24, is the lowest ranked and first unseeded finalist at Rome since number Martinez Sanchez beat Jelena Jankovic for the title in 2010.