|Serena Williams celebrates her victory against Samantha Stosur to win the Rogers Cup at the Rexall Centre in Toronto, Ont., Aug. 14, 2011. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Even after winning her 39th career singles title, a number that now includes a pair of Rogers Cup championships, Serena Williams wanted to play the underdog card.
Williams was talking about the upcoming U.S. Open, of course, and, on paper, she might not be considered among the front-runners to win her 14th Grand Slam title.
But after the way Williams dismantled buff Aussie Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-2 in the Rogers Cup final Sunday at the Rexall Centre, her second win in four tournaments since returning from a 49-week, inury-related layoff, she's got to be considered the favourite at Flushing Meadows.
And maybe the first unseeded favourite in Grand Slam history.
"I consider myself a favourite to just do what I can do best, and hopefully, if that's winning the Open, I mean, obviously I want to," Williams said. "I never go in as the favourite. I feel like I'm still the underdog.
"You know, I went through a lot of things physically and mentally and emotionally (over the last year). Going through so much, I'm just taking it one day at a time and kind of like one match at a time."
Williams thinks she still has improvements to make over the next couple of weeks, a scary thought for her opponents in Cincinnati. Overall, she rates her game as "solid."
Physically, despite twice having surgery and a near-fatal embolism in the last year, she says she is "solid."
Stosur might give both an upgrade to exceptional, though.
"I guess she makes it look very easy and it's not that easy just to come back on tour and win two events in your first four tournaments," Stosur said. "You know it's always gonna be a tough task. She never throws matches away. I think to go out there and beat here, you have to beat her."
Problem is, right now Williams looks unbeatable.
In the semifinals, Williams made Belarusan Victoria Azarenka, the fourth-ranked player in the world, look pedestrian. Straight sets. Never pushed. Done in 77 minutes.
In the final, Williams kicked it up a notch after a tight first set. And guess what? She finished off Stosur in in exactly 77 minutes, too.
"She beat me last time so I was thinking, what can I do to best her and be better this time," Williams said of the power game she used to run her career record against Stosur to 4-2. "Being down the way I've been down and coming back, it was cool. Eight months ago (if you'd asked) if there was only one tournament I want to win, it was Toronto. For whatever reason, I really wanted to win this event.
"Just going through so much and being able to win is even more amazing."
Stosur, the 10th seed here and No. 11 in the rankings, kept it close for nine games. In the ninth, with Stosur leading 40-30, Williams hammered a serve past the flat-footed Aussie to bring it to deuce then, not long after dropped a soft volley into the open court to break her.
After that it was academic.
Williams emphatically drilled an ace, her fourth of the game, on match point. Statement made.
As the match wore on, Stosur seemed to dawn to the realization that her game wasn't quite up to snuff against one of the game's all-time greats.
"I can walk off knowing I did my best, and I thought I played quite well," Stosur said, before adding with a smile, "the rain was approaching and unfortunately it didn't approach fast enough for me."
No, it was again Serena Williams' moment in the sun, figuratively anyway.