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Serena Williams breezes to gold on high-flying day for Americans

By Michelle Kaufman, McClatchy Newspapers –

WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams had just blown Maria Sharapova off Center Court 6-0, 6-1 on a blustery Saturday to win her first Olympic singles gold medal, and was singing the “Star Spangled Banner’’ on the medal podium when a gust of wind blew the American flag off its display rod. It went fluttering down, landing near the Royal Box, as the audience gasped.

“It was probably flying to come hug me because the flag was so happy,’’ Williams joked. “It was fluttering toward me, trying to wrap its fabric around me.’’

Williams was giddy immediately after the match, jumping up and down and dancing while older sister, Venus, took photos from the stands with her cell phone. A short while later, the 14-time Grand Slam champion talked a mile a minute and never stopped smiling as she met with reporters and tried to explain what the medal meant to her.

Bottom line: Williams’ resume is finally complete. She can now boast the Golden Slam – all four Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold.

“It’s a big moment,’’ Williams said. “This compares right up there. I’ve always wanted to win a gold medal, secretly. I always said it doesn’t matter because I already have a gold medal, and I really felt that, but deep, deep, deep, deep down, I wanted it in singles, as well. And I got it! It’s an amazing feeling. I have them all now!’’

And she didn’t just win it, she dominated start to finish in the most lopsided final in Olympic history.

Williams needed just 1 hour, 3 minutes to put away the Russian, who was competing in her first Olympics. Williams, 30, took charge from the start, racing to a 5-0 lead in 20 minutes. At one point in the first set, Williams had more aces than Sharapova had points. Williams finished with 10 aces to Sharapova’s one.

She served aces the final two points of the match, a pair of exclamation points to clinch her Olympic dream on the same grass court where she won her fifth Wimbledon title on July 7.

“She’s playing incredibly confident tennis,’’ Sharapova said of Williams. “After winning Wimbledon, you’ve seen her level progress so much over this tournament. She’s hitting harder, so much power on the ball. Even against the wind, her shots were very powerful.

Williams has been an Olympic fan since she was a kid and her father showed the girls old Bud Greenspan Olympic documentaries. She loves to trade pins (she got Denmark and Mali on Saturday) and showed up Saturday with her fluffy ponytail wrapped in a gold scrunchie, a hint of what was to come.

“My dad made us watch these old swimmers and Greg Louganis, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson with his gold shoes,’’ she said. “It’s so cool to have a gold medal like those guys, and Michael Phelps … hello? I only have 3, he has 21 now. The guy’s an animal.’’

She said her struggles with injuries and illness over the past few years made the medal more meaningful.

“The injuries were disastrous for me,’’ she said. “I feel like I could have had more Slams and stuff, but also think I was fortunate to survive. It made me a better person and possibly a better player. Who knows if I would have had this desire to do well and to play like I did. I do believe all things happen for a reason.’’

Less than three hours after winning her gold medal, Serena was back on Center Court with her sister to defeat Russians Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova, 7-5, 6-4. The Williams sisters won doubles gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They will face Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka for the gold medal Sunday.

It was a big day for American tennis.

In men’s doubles, U.S. twins Bob and Mike Bryan won the gold medal 6-4, 7-6 (2) over French team Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Bob leaped into his brother’s arms to celebrate, and they shared a long embrace. They have been on tour together since 1998, and won many titles, but this was their first Olympic gold.

And the American flag stayed put for their ceremony.

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