World No. 1 Serena Williams had just won her tournament-record sixth women’s tennis championship in Key Biscayne, storming back from a set down Saturday to take the final 10 games and eventually overwhelm Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 at the Sony Open.
Williams twirled like a ballerina, followed that with a dainty leap, then kicked each foot back in a victory dance, as a near-capacity crowd of 13,859 stood on its feet and cheered.
And that was after a performance she deemed substandard.
“I feel like I was just making so many errors,” Williams said, “and I was like, ‘Serena, are you really going to get to the final and not play up to your potential?’ ”
World No. 2 Sharapova had just lost her fifth tournament final in Key Biscayne — in five attempts — and her 11th consecutive match to Williams since 2004. But she still left feeling hopeful.
“It’s tough to lose in the final stage because you’ve worked so hard to get there,” the 25-year-old Russian said. “There’s no doubt about that. But it is a really nice stage to be at.
“The more I give myself this opportunity, the better chance I have of winning. … I certainly played a lot better. I had my chances. It was a step in the right direction. There’s no doubt I’ll be able to beat her.”
At first, it appeared that opportunity had arrived Saturday, another glorious weather day in more than a week full of them at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park. Sharapova dominated early with her serve in an initial set that lasted 55 minutes and kept the crowd roaring. The rallies were powerful, the balls were hit deep, and each woman moved the other from side to side — with Sharapova regularly pumping her fists and shouting self-encouragement as fans alternated between shouting “Come on, Maria!” and “Let’s go, Serena!”
“The crowd is always great here,” said Williams, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens. “A lot of them were rooting for Maria, too. It’s good to see, because it’s hard to have a crowd one-sided.”
With the score tied 1-1 in the first set, Williams crushed a 122-mph serve at Sharapova, who slammed it right back for a passing, cross-court forehand winner. The game seemingly went on forever, with eight deuces, until Sharapova finally put two consecutive groundstrokes into the net.
“I think it was almost 20 minutes before the game was over,” Williams said. “And I thought, ‘That’s sometimes a first set for me. I need to win this game.’ ”
After the first set, Williams already had 20 unforced errors to nine for Sharapova.
Williams then lost the first two games of the second set, before Sharapova broke back twice to go up 3-2.
“ ‘I’ve just got to get some energy out here,’ ” Williams said she told herself. “My energy was low.”
After that, Williams reeled off the next 10 games for the match. She lost only 10 points in the final set en route to becoming the first top-seeded woman to win the title since she did it in 2004.
By the end of the second set, Williams had five aces and Sharapova none. The victor finished the match with 35 winners to 13 for Sharapova, and won all seven of her break points.
Williams, at 31 the oldest female champion to win the tournament, ended with 32 unforced errors to 23 for Sharapova. She became the fourth woman in the Open Era to win the same tournament six times, joining Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. She is now 61-7 at the Sony Open in match wins, surpassing Graf’s record of 59-6.
“I finally have some record,” Williams said of her sixth Sony win. “Like, it’s really cool.”
Still, she wasn’t satisfied with her overall effort.
“[Saturday] wasn’t my day,” said Williams, who earned $724,000 for the victory. “Maria played really the best I have seen her play, and I think she was moving unbelievable and hitting winners from everywhere. One of the first things I said is I need that tape so I can go home and study it and train and try to get better.”
Sharapova, who took home the runner’s-up prize of $353, 200, said she felt “fine” Saturday, not weary, and was “very happy, very fortunate” to be able to play “probably the most that any player has played in the last month.
“So yeah, I have had a really great month and a great tournament. I can only take positives out of it.”
The men’s final between world No. 5 David Ferrer and No. 3 Andy Murray begins at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, followed by the women’s doubles final that pits Laura Robson and Lisa Raymond against Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik.