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By Toby Davis
LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) - American Serena Williams powered her way to a fifth Wimbledon singles title with an explosive start and a cool finish after a mid-match meltdown to beat Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 5-7 6-2 on Saturday.
The 30-year-old, contesting her seventh Wimbledon singles final, blew her nervous opponent off court in the first set but after a short rain interruption was then forced to go toe-to-toe with the Pole before reeling off the last five games.
After pounding away a backhand winner after just over two hours to end Radwanska’s brave resistance and secure a 14th grand slam singles title, Williams collapsed backwards to the court before climbing through the crowd to hug father Richard and the rest of her entourage.
“I can’t even describe it,” an emotional Williams, who suffered serious health issues after cutting her foot and was out for a year since winning her fourth title in 2010, said in an on-court interview after collecting the trophy her older sister Venus has also lifted five times.
”I almost didn’t make it a few years ago. I was in hospital but now I‘m here again and it was so worth it. I‘m so happy.
“Just never give up, you can continue. Thank you, guys in the box today, daddy, mum - I can’t name everyone one but thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Victory made her the oldest women’s singles winner since Martina Navratilova won the title in 1990, aged 33.
It looked like being a breeze for Williams as she took the opening five games and romped through the first set in 36 minutes against a clearly nervous Radwanska, who was contesting her first grand slam final.
Radwanska finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth game to sympathetic applause from the Centre Court crowd but it only delayed the inevitable.
A short rain delay interrupted the match but when the players returned, Williams moved a break ahead in the second set before Radwanska suddenly came to the party.
With Williams looking anxious, Radwanska broke back to level at 4-4 and then moved 6-5 ahead on serve.
Williams sent a backhand long to give Radwanska two set points and another error allowed the Pole to take the match into a deciding set - an achievement in itself after looking completely overwhelmed early on.
As dark clouds closed in on Centre Court, Williams looked in trouble at 1-2 in the final set but she regained her composure.
She made it 2-2 with four consecutive aces in a 49-second burst and then broke serve in the next game when Radwanska sent a backhand long. She broke again two games later with a delicate forehand drop shot as she moved in on victory.
Serving for the match at 5-2 she cracked down yet another ace, her 102nd of the tournament, then powered in another unreturnable serve before finishing off with a backhand winner.
Radwanska, Poland’s first grand slam finalist since Jadwiga Jedrzejowska in 1939, will rise to number two in the WTA rankings after a memorable fortnight.
She was overcome with emotion at the end.
”I think I had the best two weeks of my life,“ Radwanska, who had been suffering with a respiratory illness before the match, said on court. ”She was too good today but I‘m just so happy to be here in the final.
“I think it was not my day but I’ll try again next year.” (Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Martyn Herman)