NEW YORK – Serena Williams flung her racket straight up and jumped for joy, hopping and skipping and screaming and generally looking like someone who had just won her first Grand Slam title.
Nope. It sure had been a while, though.
Displaying the talent and tenacity that helped her dominate tennis earlier in the decade, Williams outlasted Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 7-5 Sunday night in a thrill-a-minute match chock full of marvelous strokes and momentum swings to win her third U.S. Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title.
And there was this "added bonus," as Williams termed it: She returns to No. 1 in the rankings.
As the women met at the net afterward, Williams felt compelled to say to Jankovic, "I'm sorry I got so excited."
No apology necessary.Four times a single point from heading to a third set, Williams was simply relentless. She took the final four games and took the title without dropping a set. The closest she came to losing one? In the quarterfinals, when she beat older sister Venus in two tiebreakers.
On this night, Venus was in the guest box, cheering for Kid Sis.
"Serena was a better player tonight," Jankovic said. "She was just too good tonight."
It was Williams' first triumph at Flushing Meadows since 2002, and it guaranteed that the American will lead the rankings Monday for the first time since August 2003 — the longest gap between stints at No. 1 for a woman.
Jankovic was in that spot for one week last month and would have returned there by winning a title match that was postponed from Saturday night because of Tropical Storm Hanna.
As good as the second-seeded Jankovic is at retrieving balls and extending points, Williams can do that with the best of them, too, leading to point after point lasting more than a dozen shots as both women scurried around Arthur Ashe Stadium, their sneakers squeaking loudly.
Both sent close-range shots directly at the other.
But the difference in strength was clear: Repeatedly after those lengthy exchanges, Jankovic was left shaking her racket hand, trying to lessen the sting. On the match's very first point, Williams drove a backhand winner with such force, such ferocity, that she sent one of her earrings flying.
The fourth-seeded Williams finished with 44 winners, 29 more than Jankovic, and smacked serves at up to 120 mph, a 14 mph edge over her opponent's fastest.
The finish was fantastic.
Williams somehow prolonged the second set after falling behind love-40 while serving and trailing 5-3.
Those three break points were set points for Jankovic, and Williams deleted each one, with a backhand winner, an overhead winner and then by forcing an errant backhand on a 10-stroke point. A 98 mph service winner left a frustrated Jankovic tossing her racket up in the air like a majorette's baton. When she sailed the next return long, Williams was at 5-4.
The next game was filled with as much drama as many a match.
Jankovic earned her fourth set point with an ace, then blew it with a double fault.
Williams earned six break points and frittered away five. On No. 6, they produced a spectacular 22-stroke point that Williams ended with a forehand passing shot down the line.
As quickly as it appeared things were getting away from Williams, she regained the lead. The next game featured more brilliant play by both, including a 24-stroke exchange Jankovic won with a forehand, and an 11-stroke point Williams took with a perfect stab volley.
Now up 6-5, four points from the title, Williams flexed her arm muscles and gritted her teeth.
Four points from defeat, Jankovic went up to the bouncing ball and kicked it.
Serving to stay in it, Jankovic wasted a game point with a double-fault. Then she dropped a groundstroke into the net, presenting Williams with second match point. Williams converted, ending a 14-stroke point with a backhand winner.
Her father climbed out of his second-row seat to help celebrate, while her mother and Venus applauded in the guest box.