STANFORD, Calif. (AP) - Serena Williams has captured her first tournament title since returning to tennis, beating Marion Bartoli 7-5, 6-1 to win the Bank of the West Classic on Sunday.
The 13-time major champion overcame two breaks in the first set to rally for a dominating finish. She went ahead 5-0 in the second and never relented.
The victory was even sweeter because the ninth-ranked Bartoli beat the former world No. 1 in straight sets in the fourth round at Wimbledon this year. The finals appearance also was the first for Williams since winning at the All England Club in 2010 and her best showing since missing nearly a year because of blood clots in her lungs and two foot operations.
All those worries washed away this week.
Unseeded and ranked 169th, Williams mowed down the competition with relative ease, including a 6-1, 6-3 thumping of Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. She capped it off with a vintage performance against a well-rested Bartoli, who advanced when Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova withdrew in the other semifinal because of a strained abdominal muscle.
Sporting a long-sleeve green shirt and black skirt, the conservative outfit - by the Williams sisters' standards, anyway - matched her strategy. She was calm and cool behind Bartoli's go-for-broke shots and second serve topping 100 mph, having a harder time with the elements.
Williams had struggled serving into the sun on a crisp and clear day at Stanford, even hitting a few serves with a shortened toss and awkward delivery. She was broken in the third game of the match and eventually went down 4-2.
Williams saved two break points and moved back to 4-3, pumping her fist in celebration with a forehand winner. Bartoli broke back and served for the match at 5-4, first requesting a trainer to deal with a blister on her right hand.
After a long rally on set point for Williams, somebody in the crowd yelled ``out'' while Bartoli returned a ball from the baseline. The French woman kept playing before hitting the next ball into the net to give Williams the set.
Bartoli argued unsuccessfully with the chair umpire to replay the point, and she requested a trainer between sets. She lost her serve in the second game, went down 5-0 and watched as Williams skipped around the court at Taube Tennis Center.
Such a small victory for Williams has never meant so much.
After winning Wimbledon in July 2010, she was out for nearly a year recovering from various health scares. The worst were two foot operations and blood clots in her lungs that left her depressed and ``on my deathbed,'' as she put it, much less wondering if she could ever play again.
Now Williams is not only back but ready to make a run on the hard-court series this summer and at U.S. Open beginning in late August.