A dominant Serena Williams won her sixth Australian Open and 19th career Grand Slam with a hard-fought win over bitter rival Maria Sharapova on Saturday, consolidating her place among the game’s legends.
The 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) triumph means the American world number one overtakes 18-time major champions Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert to go clear second on the all-time Open-era Grand Slam winners’ list, three behind Steffi Graf.
Australia’s Margaret Court, who played many of her match before the Open-era, has 24 titles. Evert, commentating on ESPN, backed Williams to eventually overtake Graf’s mark “if she stays healthy, if she stays motivated”.
“Standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen, I went on the courts with just a ball and a racquet and hope and that’s all I had,” said Williams, at 33 the oldest woman to win the Melbourne title.
She revealed her focus had already turned to claiming another Slam, telling reporters: “I want to win Roland Garros.”
“I’m just so excited to have this title,” she added, revealing that she had been “throwing up” when she went off court during a rain delay in the first set.
The American has been battling a cold all tournament and was coughing during the match.
The first Australian final in a decade to feature the tournament’s top two seeds was a one-sided affair in the opening set, although Sharapova rallied to make a contest of it in the second, saving two championship points before falling to a third.
The victory extends Williams’ decade-long winning streak over the Russian to 16 matches, with the second seed hailing her arch-rival’s “incredible achievement” but insisting she was closing the gap.
“Yes, I haven’t won against her many times, but if I’m getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I’m doing something well,” said Sharapova, who went into the tournament with the opportunity to seize Williams’ number one ranking.
– Disastrous start –
An intensely focused Williams outgunned Sharapova, cannoning down 18 aces, including a 203 kmh (166 mph) thunderbolt and glaring at her opponent during key moments as the Russian struggled to stay in the match.
Sharapova made a disastrous start when she double faulted to go down a break in the opening game, succumbing to pressure as Williams aggressively stood inside the baseline and easily read her serve.
The American pounced on any tentative returns from Sharapova who resorted to drop shots in a bid to avoid getting into a slugfest with the game’s most powerful hitter.
Rain interrupted play at 3-2, with Sharapova staying courtside as Williams took shelter and tended to her hacking cough before play resumed after 13 minutes with the roof closed.
“I had a really bad cough and I ended up throwing up,” she said. “I was able to clear my chest out because I couldn’t breath a little bit.”
Williams showed no sign of losing momentum, blasting an ace with her first shot back and then capitalising after Sharapova gave her three break points with another double fault.
While Sharapova scored a break against the run of play, Williams immediately broke back to take the set after 47 minutes.
With the final threatening to become a massacre, Sharapova’s fighting qualities finally emerged and she held serve twice early in the second set.
The Russian started taking chances but Williams got herself out of trouble with booming aces.
She held off a championship point at 5-4 with a desperate forehand down the line, going on to force a tie-break.
The 27-year-old fended off another championship point at 6-5 in the tie-break, then Williams thought she had the win with an ace, giving a wry grin when the umpire called let.
She slotted home another ace, legitimate this time, to seal the tournament, and jumped for joy.
She said her illness meant celebrations would be muted: “I’m going to go to bed, I’m going to curl up under some covers and I’m going to go to sleep.”