LONDON — Under the requisite conflicted British sky, a summer’s brew of dark clouds, showers, and taunting bits of blue, Serena Williams on Saturday wavered much like the weather but ultimately proved right as rain, overcoming a second-set stumble to capture her fifth Wimbledon title, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, over rising Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska.
Her trademark service game spotty but also at times incredible, including a dazzling string of four aces early in the third set, Williams won for the first time here since 2010 and equaled the five Venus Rosewater plates won by her sister, Venus, from 2000-08.
Ebullient in triumph, and hugging the All England Club’s shimmering dish like a favorite stuffed animal, Williams told the sellout crowd at Centre Court, “I always wanted everything Venus had.’’
For the most part, Radwanska, at 23 seven years Williams’s junior, made it easy on the game’s most dominating female force. Hindered by a cold and sniffles in recent days, a jittery Radwanska opened with a weak, timid performance, leading her to lose nine of the first 11 games. It was her first time in a Grand Slam final and the unfortunate combination of nerves and a summer bug robbed her of her best.
“I am still shaking so much,’’ she said moments after the match ended, noting that the fortnight had been the best weeks of her life. “I didn’t play good, but I was happy to be here in the final . . . I think it was not my day. I will try next year.’’
Later, Radwanska added that nerves had been her greatest initial enemy. But when rain forced a 22-minute delay between the first and second sets, it was a more assured, calmer Radwanska who emerged from the dressing room.
“Yes, for sure, the break was good for me,’’ she said. “When I came out the second time, I felt it was like a normal match.’’
Radwanska, the junior champion here in 2005, was hoping to be only the fifth player to win both the junior and ladies titles. But her play in the early going was underpowered and off-kilter. Radwanska has made her name and her growing fortune (some $9.5 million thus far) because of her quick and clever moves and deft touch. She can’t serve like Williams (no one else can), but at her best she can win on guile, anticipation, and some sleight-of-hand magic around the net. She was often short on all those marks.
“I had some chances,’’ she lamented. “But she was too good.’’
Somewhat surprisingly, the match-making shot for Williams was something that she could have plucked from Radwanska’s survival manual. In the third set, with Radwanska fighting to hold serve in the seventh game, Williams stole it on the fourth break point, eschewing one of her riveting midrange forehands for, of all things, a rather delicate, perfectly spotted drop shot.
“No one hits more drop shots than me in practice,’’ said Williams. “I’m shocked I don’t hit more in a match.’’
No one was more surprised that Radwanska, who, far back in her side of the court, could only stand still and stare. At 4:31 p.m., on the biggest stage of her life, right there on SW19’s emerald lawn, she was done in by her own game. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery. In this case, it was outright flattening.
“Always a surprise, because there was not so many drop shots in this match,’’ added Radwanska, her serve broken, the ball in Williams’s hand at 5-2 to serve for her fifth championship. “But she picked a great moment for that, for sure.’’
Equally impressive, but far less surprising, were the four Gatling gun-like aces Williams delivered to pull even, 2-2, in the third set. Moments before, she lost a chance to break Radwanska, twice allowing her to slip break points. In retrospect, said Williams, she had been inexplicably anxious in the second set and was determined in the third to get back in touch with some of that trademark family confidence.
Nothing said confident more than the four-pack of aces, clicked off in a span of 59 seconds. A minute well spent, with a second left over for doodling, or figuring how to spend her new $1.7 million in prize dough.
“I do that all the time now,’’ said Williams, equally efficient on assuredness as she is on serve. “I did it in Madrid. I think I did it earlier in this tournament. That’s my latest and greatest thing to do is hitting four aces in a game. It’s awesome.’’
Her occasional lack of humility aside, Williams’s return to the lead landscapestress here was impressive. She needed to take much of last season off, because of a cavalcade of health issues, including a couple of foot surgeries following a freak accident and also what her camp says was a life-threatening blood clot in her lungs.
Post-victory, Williams talked at considerable length about the medical issues she overcame.
“I didn’t give up,’’ she said, often noting it was her resolve that helped her most in recovery. “I was just so tired. I had a tube in my stomach and it was draining constantly. Gosh, I mean, right before that I had the blood clot. I had lung problems. You know, then I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot . . . a lot. I felt like I didn’t do anything to bring on that. I felt like, uh, I just felt down . . . the lowest of lows.’’
But Williams is back soaring, hitting as hard as ever and now with her name on 14 Grand Slam titles (a matching five in Australia, three in the US, one in France). She is the first 30-year-old to win here since Martina Navratilova told time to take a hike (and keep hiking), and many of the game’s cognescenti believe she has a revived interest in collecting hardware and hard cash well into her thirtysomethings.
“Are you kidding?’’ said Williams, asked what more she wanted. “The US Open . . . the Australian Open . . . the French Open . . . Wimbledon 2013, The Championships.’’
All of that, in varying pieces, has already been in her grasp. But she wants more. Based on everything she showed here, including 102 aces over seven matches, she’ll get what she wants.