In the midst of one of the most dominant seasons of her tennis career, Serena Williams breezed through Toronto without dropping a set all week and claimed her third Rogers Cup title, the 54th WTA Tour title of her career.
The super-fit U.S world No.1 twirled around, beaming and waving up to the fans in victory, as she has at so many tournaments across the world. The top-seeded Williams made quick work of world No.27 Sorana Cirstea, 6-2, 6-0. The lop-sided match had the young Romanian player in tears as she accepted the second-place $213,000 (all currency U.S.) cheque after a career-changing week in which she pulled off four monster upsets on her way to the final.
Cirstea, 23, in just her third year on tour and playing in the first WTA Premier final of her career, came out nervous and off pace against the 32-year-old American.
In a dream-like week, the unseeded youngster had knocked off No.10 Caroline Wozniacki, then No.14 Jelena Jankovic, before sending 2012 Rogers Cup champion and world No.7 Petra Kvitova, packing on Friday and then the runner-up, Li Na, a day later.
The Rexall Centre crowd, nearly at capacity for the final, was dotted with numerous pockets of flag-waving Romanian fans in red, gold and blue face paint. Still, there were cheers for the favourite, the frequent little-girl voices yelling "I love you Serena" and Toronto rapper Drake there to support Williams.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner was on an unstoppable course. The experienced Williams remained stone-faced on court, sending the youngster running, dictating a rapid pace and delivering expertly placed winners. Cirstea had chased down much of what came from her other highly ranked opponents this week, but not against Williams.
"No tournament is ever easy, especially when you're in the position I'm in, the tournament starts, and they expect you to win," Williams said. "It's a lot of pressure, and it's not easy. Everything for me is a bonus and a blessing. I'm a sports athlete, and I'm expected to perform. People come to watch me and my opponent, and I'm expected to perform."
It was the 70th WTA singles final of Williams's career and she grabbed the eighth title of her 2013 season, which ties her previous best season in 2002. Williams now has a remarkable 56-3 record this season. She has lost just four times in the past 16 months.
Williams remains untouched atop the WTA ranking as the U.S. Open nears. She claimed the winner's prize of $426,000 in Toronto along with 900 points on the WTA Tour. By making it to the final, Cirstea claimed 620 points and is projected to make a significant jump in next week's rankings, likely to the 21st spot.
"There is a reason why we have a ranking and why she is on top of that ranking," Cirstea said. "But for me, it's been a really positive week, and I'm going to take everything that's been going well with me into the next tournament."
While Sunday's crowd in Toronto was big and loud, earlier in the tournament, many matches were played before slim crowds.
"Well, we lost Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka [to withdrawals] – they are definitely fan favourites," said Karl Hale, Rogers Cup Toronto tournament director. "It definitely impacts our sales, but considering during the week Serena did a fantastic job, all of her matches were well attended and she's a fan favourite, so we're very happy to have her. We still had 17 of the top 20, which is a great field in any right, even a Grand Slam. So we're happy with that."
Hale was optimistic about attendance at future Rogers Cups, particularly given the strong play of the Canadians this week.
"It will have a tremendous ripple effect throughout Canadian tennis," Hale said. "One, we will have a lot more juniors playing the sport because of Milos [Raonic] and Vasek [Pospisil] and Eugenie [Bouchard] now. Two, is that all of our players actually believe that we can be a great tennis nation, that we're not just a good tennis nation anymore, and that we are trying to be the best."