Serena Williams
Serena Williams has been ill, but found the strength necessary to beat Lucie Safarova at Roland Garros. AFP

Serena Williams outlasted Lucie Safarova in an entertaining final to capture her third French Open crown and the 20th Grand Slam singles title of a hugely successful career.

The reigning women's number one, who overcame an inconvenient bout of flu to beat Timea Bacsinszky at the semi-final stage, took the first set easily but her brave opponent rallied wonderfully from a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 deficit to take the second on a tiebreak.

A passionate Williams then went 2-0 down in the decisive third set before drawing upon her vast reserves of experience and quality to avoid becoming the victim of a sizeable shock to win 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

"It was a very complicated match," Williams said of her latest victory. "Lucie was a magnificent opponent for me, she was very aggressive.

"I was a set up and a break and I got nervous but I came through and I so happy to be part of history, winning my 20th Grand Slam. I can't believe I have won my 20th here in Paris on this court. It is very special."

World number 13 Safarova, contesting her first major singles final, said: "It has been a great two weeks here for me – so many emotions and great wins. Serena – you were amazing today, you're a great fighter, so congratulations."

Williams triumphed over Maria Sharapova to win the Australian Open back in January and is now tantalisingly close to Steffi Graf's all-time record of 22 Grand Slam wins. She will have the opportunity to close the gap further still at Wimbledon later this month.

In the men's draw, meanwhile, Novak Djokovic will hope to claim his maiden French Open title and collect a prestigious career Grand Slam on 7 June as he meets Stan Wawrinka in the final.

Like Williams, the Serb appeared in danger of defeat on the second day of his weather-affected meeting with an in-form Andy Murray but eventually retained his composure to win in five sets 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1.

Safarova also returns to action on the final day as she teams up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to take on Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova in the women's doubles final.