NEW YORK — Serena Williams flung her racket aside and jumped for joy, looking like someone who had just won her first Grand Slam title.
It was her ninth. But it sure had been a while since her last one.
Displaying the talent and tenacity that helped her dominate tennis earlier in the decade, Williams outlasted Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 7-5 Sunday night in a thrill-a-minute match full of marvelous strokes and momentum swings to win her third U.S. Open championship.
And there was this "added bonus," as Williams termed it: She returns to No. 1 in the rankings.
As the women met at the net afterward, Williams felt compelled to say to Jankovic, "I'm sorry I got so excited."
No apology necessary.
Four times a single point from heading to a third set, Williams was simply relentless. She took the final four games.
She also won the title without dropping a set. The closest she came to losing one was in the quarterfinals, when she beat older sister Venus in two tiebreakers.
On this night, Venus was in the guest box, cheering for her sister.
After it was over, their father, Richard, climbed out of his second-row seat to help Serena celebrate, while her mother and Venus applauded in the box.
"Serena was a better player tonight," Jankovic said. "She was just too good tonight."
It was Williams' first triumph at Flushing Meadows since 2002, and it guaranteed that the American will lead the rankings today for the first time since August 2003, the longest gap between stints at No. 1 for a woman.
Jankovic was in that spot for one week last month and would have returned there by winning the title match, which was postponed from Saturday night because of Tropical Storm Hanna.
As good as the second-seeded Jankovic is at retrieving balls and extending points, Williams can do that with the best of them, too, leading to point after point lasting more than a dozen shots as both women scurried around Arthur Ashe Stadium, their sneakers squeaking loudly.
But the difference in strength was clear: Repeatedly after those lengthy exchanges, Jankovic was left shaking her racket hand, trying to lessen the sting. On the match's first point, Williams drove a backhand winner with such force, such ferocity, that she sent one of her earrings flying.
The fourth-seeded Williams finished with 44 winners, 29 more than Jankovic, and smacked serves at up to 120 mph, a 14 mph edge over her opponent's fastest.
Serena's victory over Venus in the quarterfinal was a key to this victory, but the final master stroke was beating Jankovic, a first-time major finalist who was far from being a deer in the headlights.