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Serena of old rides again

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Every time you think it's time to count Serena Williams out, the American superstar rallies again to prove her tennis greatness.

After ending the 2006 season ranked a lowly 95th in the world, due mostly to injuries and inactivity, Williams enjoyed a resurgence last year and is currently playing, arguably, the best tennis on the WTA Tour this season.

Currently ranked sixth on the planet, the former world No. 1 and eight-time Grand Slam event champion is off to a scorching 19-1 start in 2008, including a trio of titles in only four tournaments.

The powerful American started off the year in disappointing fashion by failing to get past the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, where she had been the reigning champ.

But since losing to Serbian slugger Jelena Jankovic in Melbourne, the 5-foot-9 Serena has rattled off 15 straight match victories and titled back-to-back-to- back in Bangalore (India), Miami and Charleston. She handled Russian Vera Zvonareva in last week's finale in South Carolina and avenged her Aussie Open setback at the hands of Jankovic by besting the Serbian in the lucrative finale in Miami.

The red-hot Serena has won her last three tournaments, beating the likes of No. 1 Justine Henin and former top-ranked superstar Maria Sharapova in the process.
In Bangalore, Serena outdueled her big sister Venus in the semis before getting past veteran Swiss southpaw Patty Schnyder in the title bout. In Miami, in addition to stopping Jankovic in the championship round, Serena crushed her arch-rival, Justine Henin, 6-2, 6-0 in the quarters, while in Charleston, in addition to defeating Zvonareva in the finale, the American upended Aussie Open champ Maria Sharapova in three sets. Sharapova has been the other really hot player to this point in '08, as only Williams and the tall Russian have captured three titles this year.

"I feel like I have some momentum behind me and I just want to keep going," Serena said after titling in Charleston, which marked her first clay-court title since the 2002 French Open.

The 26-year-old Serena owns 31 singles titles in 38 finals and has her career prize money over the $19-million mark, despite missing a ton of tennis over the years due to injuries and, perhaps, a lack of interest at times. As a matter of fact, she's missed six of the last 22 majors for various reasons, in addition to the countless lesser tourneys she's skipped this decade.

She quietly hasn't won the U.S. Open since 2002, which also happens to be the ONLY year she finished as a year-end No. 1, and her last multiple-Slam season came in 2003 (Aussie Open and Wimbledon). Her maiden major title came at the 1999 U.S. Open, when she was a spry 17-year-old. She joined the professional ranks at the tender age of 14 back in 1995.

Serena is, however, the last male or female player to hold all four major titles at the same time, with the '02 French and '03 Aussie Opens sandwiching the '02 Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns -- all of which came at the expense of Venus in a successive quartet of Grand Slam finals.

Did You Know?: Serena Williams has finished inside the year-end top-five only three times in her Hall-of-Fame career?

Shifting Gears: Serena has been linked romantically to film director Brett Ratner (2004-06) and more recently (actually currently) to 36-year-old rapper Common (a name that I would consider to be UNcommon).

Serena will try to return to the Grand Slam winner's circle at the 2008 French Open in late-May/early-June. Her lone French Open title came six long years ago, when she beat her sister in an all-sibling, all-American final. Serena has reached at least the quarters in her last five trips to Roland Garros, but has failed to get past the QFs in four straight majors overall, dating back to last year's French.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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