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In all-American affair, Serena wins Rome to snap title drought

ROME, ITALY - MAY 15: Serana Williams of the United States pictured after winning against Madison Keys of the United States during the Womens Singles Finalduring day eight of The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2016 on May 15, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
May 15, 2016 10:28 AM

By E.J. Crawford, USTA.com

After a nine-month absence, Serena Williams is back in the winner’s circle.

At the WTA Premier event in Rome, Williams topped 21-year-old countrywoman Madison Keys, 7-6(5), 6-3, for her fourth Internazionali BNL d'Italia championship and the 70th WTA title of her sure-fire Hall-of-Fame career.

The Rome final was the first all-American WTA singles final since 2012, when Williams defeated CoCo Vandeweghe in Stanford, Calif., and the first of its kind on red clay since 2002, when Serena defeated older sister Venus in the French Open final.

The victory marked Serena's first tour title since winning the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in Cincinnati last August. Much of that drought, however, can be attributed to a lack of tournament play. After falling in the semifinals of the 2015 US Open – a defeat to Roberta Vinci that ended her run at the calendar Grand Slam – Williams took the rest of the year off. And while she had not previously captured a title, the current world No. 1 had played well in 2016, falling in the final of the Australian Open (to Angelique Kerber) and Indian Wells (to Victoria Azarenka); Serena also lost in the round of 16 in Miami to Svetlana Kuznetsova, who she vanquished, 6-2, 6-0, in the quarterfinals earlier this week.

"I feel like it was important for me to just go out there like usual," Williams said in her post-match press conference, according to wtatennis.com. "It's a totally new match, it's a different week, you know, and hopefully just win one. If not, hope for next time, next week."

With this latest crown, Williams joins Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Margaret Court as one of only five women with 70 career singles titles, according to the WTA.

The title in Rome, one of the key French Open tune-ups, also re-establishes Williams as the favorite at Roland Garros, which kicks off in a week’s time. Williams is a three-time French Open champion, having won in Paris in 2002, 2013 and 2015. A fourth French Open victory would tie Williams with Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era, at 22.

"I think no matter how many times you play Serena, you always go in and you can just feel her presence," said Keys, who started well on Sunday, racing out to a 3-1 lead in the opening set. "That's always an extra thing that you have to be worried about during the match. But for me, today it really wasn't so much about how big the tournament was or anything like that. It was really just wanting to go out and do my best and give my best performance."

Despite the defeat, Keys also enters the French Open on a high, with the runner-up finish in Rome registering as her first WTA Premier final and one of the best weeks of her young career – on her least favorite surface, no less. Before falling to her countrywoman, the big-serving world No. 24 dispatched No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova, No. 3 Garbine Muguruza and Top 50 players Timea Babos, Andrea Petkovic and Barbora Strycova

"I think having a couple of Top 10 wins this week was really big for me, and playing people who have done very well in Roland Garros and just on clay in general," Keys said. "But I think the biggest thing is just how calm I have stayed on court and really, even in tough situations, stayed calm and collected and just really focused on my game. And I feel like I'm playing much smarter tennis."

The final was the third of Keys’ career, following a title in Eastbourne in 2014 and a runner-up showing in Charleston in 2015. Keys’ best result to date came at the 2015 Australian Open, where she advanced to the semifinals before falling to Serena.

Keys will rise to No. 17 in Monday’s rankings, just one spot off her career best.