Serena Williams holds her trophy after defeating sister Venus. Photograph: Aaron Favila/AP
• Serena Williams beats Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 at Melbourne Park
• Seventh Australian Open title secures open-era record for Serena
By theguardian UK.
Serena Williams is the most prolific grand slam winner of the open era in women’s tennis after claiming her 23rd major singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over her sister Venus at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday. This triumph also made Serena a seven-time winner of the Australian Open, while Venus had to be content with offering a reminder that her own greatness remains very much in the present tense.
Whatever the result of this finale a record was going to tumble. Venus – 36 years old, nine years on from her last grand slam triumph and playing in her 73rd major tournament – stood a chance of becoming the oldest champion of the open era. The woman who remains the record-holder now? Well, Serena, of course.
This was the ninth time the sisters had met in a grand slam final. Eight years on from their last together, it was also surely the least likely of all. The early stages showed inside knowledge counts for plenty. Serena broke in the first game of the match by guessing correctly, or perhaps just outright intuiting, that her sister would go wide to her forehand with a smash at the net. Not only did Serena retrieve it, she sent a quite sensational winner fizzing past Venus.
That set a pattern – the first four games of the match were all breaks. Throughout the tournament Serena’s weapons-grade first serve had been such a calling card she hadn’t dropped a set, nor faced a tiebreak, but now she was getting a taste of her own medicine as Venus attacked with relish.
Venus held first, sitting dead still and staring fiercely ahead at the changeover. It had been a slightly surreal opening 25 minutes of the contest. For many in the Melbourne crowd there was a genuine unreality about it all. By the third game – at the insistence of an agitated Serena, who frustratedly snapped a racket – they had to be reminded by the chair umpire to stay silent during points.
Once both players had finally held, Serena made her move, breaking in the seventh game of the first set and then holding with a looping forehand winner. She closed it out 6-4 in 41 minutes, and by then led for aces (7-4) and winners (16-11), and was dealing better with being worked around the court by her savvy and experienced opponent.
Early in the second set it stayed on serve, Serena holding with conviction. But she met with plenty of roadblocks she hadn’t encountered in her marauding run through the rest of the draw. The third game was ample demonstration of everything remarkable about Venus’s run. She saved three break points before advancing to the net and clattering a forehand winner that ignited the stadium.
The seventh game proved decisive, containing both the most gripping rally of the match, which Serena won, and also the first successful break of the second set, which Serena also claimed. She was on the path to victory, but Venus made her work until the very last.
After one last rally for the ages, which Venus won to pile on the pressure at 15-30, Serena finally served it out in an hour and 22 minutes, dropping to the ground and then embracing her sister in the middle of the court she had dominated so thoroughly all week.
There was a certain symmetry at play in all of this. It was here at Melbourne Park where the sisters first faced each other in a grand slam match, way back in 1998, when a win to Venus hit newspaper front pages worldwide. Rod Laver Arena is also where they contested their only shared three-set grand slam final, in 2003. Serena got that one.
In the lead-up to this final Serena had been right about many things, not least that this was an amazing story no matter what the result. Venus was eight years on from her last appearance at a grand slam final, a time in which she’s battled her toughest opponent of all – Sjögren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disease that causes joint pain and fatigue.
It’s also a long stretch of time in which every second question she’s faced has been, “When will you retire, it must be close?” At turns politely, jokingly, mock-indignantly, Venus has always dispatched those inquiries like another double-handed backhand into open court, when what she might have said is that she is a prideful competitor and a champion, and probably couldn’t stand the lowered stakes and intensity-free world of legends matches and exhibitions.
Like her sister, Venus Williams is unquestionably great, but we’d wrongly assumed that her salad days were all behind her. What she’s proved in the last fortnight is that greatness is also about what happens in that lull when they write you off and tell you you’re done – all those years on end when time and luck rob you of moments as big as this. Venus Williams has spent close to a decade in that lull, but to get here and do this has reminded us all that she too is one of the game’s great treasures. As Serena observed of her sister afterwards: “I don’t like the word comeback. She never left.”
Likewise, Serena further confirmed her rare distinction in the game: to be equally great in the time before and after turning 30 – an especially remarkable achievement in a sport that historically favours youth and renewal. Now she steps past Steffi Graf and into a spot in open-era history all her own, where she belongs.
Both winner and loser were champions, their glory unquestioned. Venus had alluded to this possibility in the lead-up to this match. “People relate to the champion,” she said. “They also relate to the person also who didn’t win because we all have those moments in our life.” But now, Serena Williams is Australian Open champion again, and her sister did indeed experience that difficult moment she’d forewarned. Equally, the rest of us were reminded that when she is finally done with big-time tennis, Venus Williams will be the one to let us know.
Culled from theguardian UK.