Serena Williams captured her first tournament title since returning to tennis, beating Marion Bartoli 7-5, 6-1 to win the Bank of the West Classic on Sunday.
The 13-time major champion overcame two breaks in the first set to rally for a dominating finish. She went ahead 5-0 in the second and never relented.
"Coming back and hearing the claps when I walk out there are moments that I truly missed," Williams said. "It's so awesome to be back and to be a part of those moments. Not everyone can be a sports, I don't know if 'star' sounds full of myself, but I've worked hard for that title.
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"So, yes, I say it and I take pride in it."
The victory was even sweeter because the ninth-ranked Bartoli beat the former world No. 1 in straight sets in the fourth round at Wimbledon this year.
The appearance in the final also was the first for Williams since winning at the All England Club in 2010 and her best showing since missing nearly a year because of blood clots in her lungs and two foot operations.
All those worries washed away this week.
Unseeded and ranked 169th, Williams mowed down the competition with relative ease, including a 6-1, 6-3 thumping of Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. She capped it off with a vintage performance against a well-rested Bartoli, who advanced when Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova withdrew in the other semifinal because of a strained abdominal muscle.
"I hated those triple digits," she said, chuckling. "Now I've got to get to single digits."
Sporting a long-sleeve green shirt and black skirt, the conservative outfit — by the Williams sisters' standards, anyway — matched her strategy. She was calm and cool behind Bartoli's go-for-broke shots and second serve topping 100 mph, having a harder time with the elements.
"Serena, she already can improve from one day to the other," Bartoli said. "So you can imagine from one match to the other. I knew before the match started it was different than Wimbledon."
Williams had struggled serving into the sun on a crisp and clear day at Stanford, even hitting a few serves with a shortened toss and awkward delivery. She was broken in the third game of the match and eventually went down 4-2.
Williams saved two break points and moved back to 4-4 with a break, pumping her fist in celebration. Bartoli broke back and served for the set at 5-4, first requesting a trainer to deal with the bruise.
After a long rally on set point for Williams, somebody in the crowd yelled "out" while Bartoli returned a ball from the baseline. The French woman kept playing before hitting the next ball into the net to give Williams the set.
Bartoli argued unsuccessfully with the chair umpire to replay the point, and she requested a trainer between sets. She lost her serve in the second game, went down 5-0 and watched as Williams skipped around the court at Taube Tennis Center.
"I'm sure she's going to tell you that she can play even better," Bartoli said. "And I'm sure that she will."
Such a small victory for Williams has never meant so much.
After winning Wimbledon in July 2010, she was out for nearly a year recovering from various health scares. The worst were two foot operations and blood clots in her lungs that left her depressed and "on my deathbed," as she put it, much less wondering if she could ever play again.
Now Williams is not only back but ready to make a run on the hard-court series this summer and at U.S. Open beginning in late August.
Even if she's not ready to call herself the favorite.
"I haven't thought about (the U.S. Open). Right now, I just put myself right at the bottom," Williams said. "I feel like I just want to start and go in. My confidence is better, which is what I was planning for. I don't even think like that. When I get there, I'm going to have the same chance as everybody else."