By Jane Voigt
Serena Williams has again staked her claim in tennis history, by winning The Australian Open a record 6th time. The crown upped her overall major singles titles to 19, and puts her one ahead of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Steffi Graf tops the list with 22.
Women’s tennis, tennis and all sport may never see another champion such as Serena Williams. About as even in mental fortitude as Maria Sharapova, who lost today’s encounter on Rod Laver Arena 64 76(5), Williams’ dominance consistently shows itself in the big moments. She served 18 aces in the two sets, the last a second serve to win the title.
“Congratulations to Maria,” Williams began, at the awards’ presentation. “She played so well. She gave a good final for women’s tennis and you guys.”
Williams has been suffering from a respiratory illness and could be heard coughing right before she took to the court, and before she came back on court after a delay as the roof was closed due to rain.
“There were moments when you believed in me and I didn’t,” she said, acknowledging Patrick Mouratoglou, her coach and former boyfriend.
Sharapova’s first set was constrained by an initial break from Serena. However, the second set was a tribute to how good women’s tennis can. Both players struck the ball with fierce intent, ran down impossible shots, and ended a few with deft drop shots — a newer tactic from Sharapova.
“[Her serve] is definitely much faster,” Sharapova told the press. “There [are] just very limited amount of players that serve in that speed range as she does consistently. She finds the corners well.”
The Russian has now lost to Serena 16 times in a row over ten years. However her speech on Rod Laver was gracious and uplifting, a testament to what sportsmanship can be.
Serena’s speech was uplifting and full of hope, as well.
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest but I had a rich family and support,” Williams began. “Standing here with the 19th, it’s inspiring. You just never give up. All I had was a racquet, a ball, and hope.”
Serena’s relentless fight was put to the test early in the match, first from a cough that would’ve sidelined many. Then at 30-30 halfway through set one, players were called off while the roof for Rod Laver Arena was closed. When she returned to the court, she blasted away two aces to win the game.
Additionally, a hindrance called in Sharapova’s favor could have put the two-seed ahead in the second set. But it just fueled Williams’ engine and Sharapova’s, for that matter.
The set will be remembered as probably the best for the tournament, so far, including both men’s and women’s competition. On her third championship point — 6-5 in the tiebreak — Serena dropped her racquet and threw up her hands, thinking she’d done it. A let was called. A wry smile certainly reflected the irony. But … she walked to the baseline, tossed the ball and smacked an ace. Her celebratory jumps would have competed well with any kangaroo.
The leaps of joy from the oldest woman to ever win the Australian Open were another significant symbol of her strength, athleticism, and love of the game. She is 33.
“Thirty is the new 20,” Serena mentioned in an ESPN interview. Perhaps she meant to say 33.
Although the loss stings for Sharapova, she will move on and continue to give herself all the afforded chances to win more titles. She was looking for her sixth Major today.
“If I’m getting to the finals of Grand Slams and setting myself up to play a match against Serena. I’m happy,” Sharapova began. “It’s a good start to the year.”