Serena Williams insists it’s not as easy as it looks.
The top-ranked woman breezed to her third Rogers Cup title Sunday with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea. This was her eighth WTA title of the year and the 54th of her career.
She didn’t drop a set all week and lost only 22 games, almost half that total against third-seed Agnieszka Radwanska in a semifinal that proved her only real test in this U.S. Open tuneup.
With the absence of top-five players Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, and the early exit of Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli, all because of injury, Williams faced few obstacles in her path to the title.
"No tournament is ever easy, especially being in the position I am in," she said. "The tournament starts and they expect you to win. And the tournament is like, `You’re going to be in the final and after your semifinal I want you to do this, and you have to do this and this press.’ Who knows if I’ll even make it to the semifinals? It’s a lot of pressure. It’s not easy."
Williams plays this week in Cincinnati and will be the defending champion at the U.S Open. Despite having lost only one match since March, a stunning early exit at Wimbledon, she says she can still improve.
"For me it’s always about constantly improving and never saying `I did great and I can be satisfied,’" she said. "I did great (today), but what can I do better? What can I improve on? That’s what I always strive for. When I get satisfied, and for a lot of players, the (playing) level goes down."
Cirstea was appearing in only her third WTA final and looking to build on her only title — in 2008 at Tashkent. This tournament proved a breakthrough. She ousted two former No. 1 players (Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki) before defeating defending champion Petra Kvitova in the quarters and fourth-seeded Li Na in the semifinals.
"For me it’s been a really positive week and I’m going to take everything that well to the next tournament," she said.
Cirstea was unsteady from the opening game, double-faulting the first point and again at 30-40 to give Williams an early break. Williams broke again for 3-0 after Cirstea sent a backhand wide. That prompted a visit from her Australian coach, Darren Cahill.
The pep talk appeared to work momentarily. Cirstea won four straight points to break back and held serve at 3-2. But Williams quickly removed any chance of an upset, winning two straight games and acing a winner to make it 6-2.
"The start was not as bad as the scored showed," Cirstea said. "The first three games I had really good chances so I could have been up three-love. Suddenly I found myself down three-love. I know the score seems quite tough but there were moments when I felt the match was closer than it seemed."
With shouts of "Sorana" and "Serena" volleying around the stadium, splashes of Romania’s blue, yellow and red could be seen dotting the Rexall Centre stands on a warm, sunny afternoon.
"I was surprised to see how many Romanians there were out there and how many flags I’ve seen," she said. "It was an incredible atmosphere and it made me feel like home when they were screaming, supporting me and saying positive things. I’m looking forward to coming back here."
But Cirstea’s contingent had even less to cheer for in the second set. Williams used her trademark power strokes to keep Cirstea running and ripped an ace to hold serve at 2-0.
Cirstea, her head hanging low, again called for Cahill. But it didn’t do much good. Williams eased through the final four games and wrapped up the match in just more than hour.
Williams earned $426,000 for the victory. Cirstea takes home $213,000, almost half her prize money so far this year.
Cirstea became teary during the trophy presentation.
"Usually I’m quite emotional," she said. "Of course, I was disappointed because I wanted to play better, so it’s mixed feelings out there. I think even if I won today I would still be crying."
All three of Williams’ Rogers Cup titles have come in Toronto, the others in 2001 and 2011. She says she loves playing in this city because of the friends who come to see her play. Local hip-hop star Drake, also present for her 2011 win, cheered her from courtside.
"We’re really good friends," Williams said. "I was excited that he made it today."