WIMBLEDON, England – Serena Williams had been dreaming of this moment all her life. Now here it was.
She was standing on top of a Centre Court podium, the gold in women's singles around her neck, "The Star Spangled Banner" playing loud and her eyes locked on the American flag raising triumphantly in the air.
Suddenly, one of those powerful gusts of British wind came through, the flag came undone and, without warning, the Stars and Stripes began floating through the air, right toward the tennis great.
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"I just saw all these gusts of winds," Williams later said as she began to laugh. "Then I saw the flag flying. It was probably flying to hug me … It was fluttering towards me trying to wrap its fabric around me."
She kept smiling at the memory. It was, perhaps, the only mishap of a day in which she simply annihilated Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1 in just 63 minutes to seize that long-awaited gold medal.
She started the day by putting her hair up in a gold scrunchie: "I did it on purpose." She ended it by blasting a 121 mile-per-hour serve past Sharapova and immediately breaking into some kind of celebratory dance like she was 6 years old: "I didn't plan that."
This was complete dominance by Williams, who, over the last few years recovered from injuries she feared would end her career to return to the top of her sport. And that included the Olympics.
Williams owns 14 major championships as a professional and has earned more prize money,nearly ($40 million) than any other female player. Yet despite owning two doubles gold medals (2000, 2008) she desperately wanted a singles gold to give her what she called "the golden slam."
So she attacked this tournament like it was Wimbledon, which she's won five times including just a few weeks ago. She didn't lose a single set during the games and barely needed an hour to win each of her medal-round matches.
[ Related: Serena crushes Sharapova to win Golden Slam ]
Sharapova, who hasn't won a set off Williams in four years, didn't stand a single chance on Saturday. Williams strength allowed her to blast through windy conditions here. She delivered 10 aces to one, rocketed 24 winners to six and gave up just 14 points in the first nine games, winning all of them.
"I was really focused today, I wanted to do well," Williams said.
She said the motivation to win gold was supreme. Not only was it one of the few championships she doesn't own – there's also mixed doubles at the Australian and French Opens – this is a once-in-four years opportunity.
With Williams now 30 and battling so many health issues of late, the 2016 Games in Rio are no guarantee.
"I'm going to play my heart out and whatever happens I know I am going to play my best," Williams said.
As has long been the case in women's tennis, when Serena is playing her best no one else can keep up. She's had foot injuries, back injuries, a scare of hematoma.
"At one point I thought I just want to get out of the hospital," Williams said. "I never even thought I'd play tennis again."
[ Photos: Serena Williams wins singles tennis gold ]
She got out and got better.
"One day I called and said, 'I think I can practice again.' "
She's now back to being the best in the world and having a victory lap of sorts. The injuries frustrate her; she knows her grand slam tally would be higher. There's a bright side, though. She's turned into a sharper, more motivated player who doesn't give away opportunities. She's a maxed-out Serena.
"It made me a better person and who knows perhaps a better player," she said. "Who knows if I would've had this desire to do well? I really do believe that everything happens for a reason. So I'm glad I was able to get up from that."
Sharapova was the victim on Saturday – the hopeless, helpless opponent standing in the way of the 30-year-old and one of the few honors in tennis she didn't own.
When Serena was a child, her father showed her and her sister Venus – who are still going for doubles gold here – videos of great Olympians. Greg Louganis. Carl Lewis. Later, she vividly remembers watching Michael Johnson. She remains a huge fan of Michael Phelps, although she was too shy to approach him the other day during a visit to the athlete's village.
[ Related: Serena Williams must meet Michael Phelps ]
That singles gold was there for the taking and Serena was never going to live with any regret. So Sharapova got steamrolled in an epic performance, Serena got to dance at Centre Court and then experience the bizarre memory of having her American flag come undone at a medal ceremony.
"Obviously it wasn't intentional," she said, recapping the laughs she was sharing with Sharapova as the flag fell. "It was windy, so, hey, that's life."
A life that's even more golden now for the old pro once again acting like a little kid out of Los Angeles.
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