I'm not sure many people didn't expect today's result at the Family Circle Cup. The 2008 champion here, Serena Williams, coasted through the draw without dropping a set, winning her first trophy of the year and the milestone fortieth of her career. But the manner in which she did it proved she's still the one everyone else must answer to.
Williams' performance in Miami helped her back into the top ten, but she was still the fifth seed when she came to Charleston. But her performance, even in the early rounds, showed she was ready to outplay her position. She fired off eleven aces against Elena Vesnina in her opener and, despite suffering her only broken service game of the week in that match, eventually advanced with little drama. As she progressed through the event, as is her style, she seemed to clean up her game further -- in her semifinal against Sam Stosur, the woman who stunned her in last year's U.S. Open final, she made just fifteen errors to nearly twenty-nine winners and dropped just two points on her first serve. After just under an hour, she'd made her way back to the final, the clear favorite for the title.
In the other half of the draw, Lucie Safarova had been similarly impressive, though arguably against less formidable players. The ninth-seeded Czech was pushed to a third set by on-the-rise Aleksandra Wozniak, but passed the test without dropping serve. Against Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals, a woman to whom she'd lost a tight two-setter last year in Melbourne, she stayed strong and polished off the former world #2 in just under ninety minutes. Safarova raised her game in the semis, rolling past Polona Hercog -- who'd incidentally beaten Nadia Petrova in the quarters after outlasting a likely exhausted Marion Bartoli a round earlier -- with a double bagel.
But her luck ran out in Sunday's final. Serena ran off with the first nine games of the match, and though Safarova was able to hold at love in the tenth game, Williams quickly put the championship back on her track and polished off her opponent in just fifty-eight minutes.
Her win should bring her back to #9 in the world as of Monday's rankings. But more importantly, it reminds all potential challengers she's still out there to win. Sure it's been a few months since her last title and a couple other stars have taken the opportunity to shine in her absence. But Serena's return to the winner's circle this weekend shows she can still dominate, and do so without any drama. And if she's truly healthy again, it might just change how the rest of the year plays out.