The real Serena Williams finally turned up at the French Open on Saturday in pursuit of a 22nd grand slam singles title but it was to no avail as she lost to a tenacious opponent who beat her at her own power game.
In contrast to her listless quarter and semi-final performances in labouring past two players outside the world’s top 50, the American looked more like her menacing self as she traded high-octane blows with Spanish fourth seed Garbine Muguruza.
The return of Williams’ trademark screams after key points also pointed to a more focused approach on her fourth successive day on court than she had shown, when ostensibly fresher, during Thursday’s and Friday’s matches.
A share of the professional-era record tally of singles crowns held by Steffi Graf would have been hers had she won but it was Muguruza who triumphed 7-5 6-4.
Earlier in the tournament Williams appeared to view the landmark with indifference, telling reporters on Friday “(there’s) nothing I can do about it”.
But her committed contribution to Saturday’s captivating final suggested that, perhaps with an awareness of diminishing opportunities as she approaches her 35th birthday, she cared more than she was willing to admit.
In the end the better player won and Williams denied suggestions that, after the defeat added to January’s Australian Open final reverse at the hands of German Angelique Kerber, the pressure of gunning for number 22 might be getting to her.
The American, not wanting to use a niggly adductor muscle or a tough playing schedule as excuses, seemed relieved it was all over, at least for a few weeks until the drama decamps to Wimbledon.
“I think in Australia…Kerber made 16 errors in three sets…so what do you do in that situation? Today Garbine played unbelievable,” Williams told reporters.
“The only thing I can do is just keep trying.”