Serena Storms To Number 19 with Australian Open Title over Sharapova
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Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
Tennis is a game of numbers, and it’s the digits that tell the story yet again. Serena Williams’ 17th career victory over Maria Sharapova captured her 19th Grand Slam title, moving the American within 3 of Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major victories.
The world number one defeated Sharapova 6-3,7-6 to claim her sixth Australian title of her illustrious career and 19th major, which now separates her from Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova who have 18 each.
Serena was the favourite heading into the match, and with good reason. The American hadn’t lost to her final opponent in 15 matches. Maria’s last victory over Serena came in 2004 in the WTA Championships that year. Since then, the Russian has barely been able to win a set, never mind a match against her long-time rival. Despite the lop-sided head to head, there was a slight glimmer of hope for Sharapova as Williams appeared to be carrying a virus. Serena apparently only practiced for five minutes a day before the final, and was said to have a nasty cough heading in to the final.
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It didn’t take long for the world number one to stamp her authority on the match, however. Serena broke in the very first game, giving her the perfect nerve settler. The match stayed with serve until a rain delay at *3-2 30-30 forced the roof on Rod Laver arena to be closed. During the interruption, Williams took it upon herself to leave the court, presumably because of the illness.
Despite being pictured coughing in the tunnel, Serena came out and won the first five points after the delay extending her lead to 5-2, and giving herself a chance to serve out the first set. Sharapova is known for her determination and her competitive spirit and she showed exactly why that is. The world number two broke straight back giving herself a fighting chance of rescuing the opening set. Unfortunately for the Russian, it turned out to be all for nothing. Serena re-asserted control by breaking Sharapova to love; 1-0 to the top seed.
Williams continued to look dominant as she soon raced to a game lead, and two break point opportunities at the start of the second set. Most players facing Serena would fold in this situation, but the world number two isn’t just another player. The fighting spirit that has seen Sharapova win five grand slam titles was on display for everyone to see as she saved the break points and won the game.
The 27 year old had played her way into the match, and despite facing two more break points, and a match point on her own serve, Sharapova salvaged a second set tie break.
Possessing one of the best serves in the whole of tennis, and experience that most dream of, Serena was no doubt the favourite in the tiebreak. She gave the mini-break to Sharapova in the first point of the breaker, but it was soon overturned by the world number one as she raced into a 4-1 lead. The second seed kept in touch by holding on to her serve in the next two points, and she was rewarded by getting the mini-break back at 5-3. Unfortunately for Sharapova her efforts were futile as Serena re-established her advantage in the next point to set up 2 match points. Maria saved the first with a big forehand down the line, leaving Serena to settle it on her own serve. The world number one’s cough soon turned into a hiccup as an apparent ace was called a let by the umpire. But the 33 year old re-grouped to fire down an ace that replicated the ruled out one from moments before to close the match out. It was a champion’s way to finish it off, from perhaps the greatest women’s athlete of all time.
Williams stepped up to the podium to collect her trophy to cries of “I love you” from the crowd, in which she responded “I love you back, I really do!” She added: “I have to congratulate Maria, who played a wonderful, wonderful match tonight. She really pushed me tonight. She played so well and gave us a great final – not only for you guys, but for women’s tennis and all of the sponsors who support our sport and all of us. I’m honoured to play you in the final.”
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit and support, and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the courts with just a ball, a racquet and a hope. That’s all I had. So all you guys who want to do something or be something, just never give up. You never know what can happen or who you can inspire. I’m just so honoured.”
Sharapova was gracious in her runners up speech: “First of all I’ve got to congratulate Serena on creating history and on playing some of her best tennis,” Sharapova said. “It’s an honour playing against her. I haven’t beaten her in a really long time, but I love it every time I step on the court to play her because she’s the best, and as a tennis player you want to play the best, so congratulations on such a great achievement.”
“It’s been a long couple of weeks here for me. I was almost down and out in the second round, and I gave myself a second life in this tournament. It wasn’t enough today, but I love it here. I’ve had some of my best memories on this court and my toughest losses, but that’s life as a tennis player.”
Both players had their struggles on the way to the final, but they ultimately prevailed.
Serena had to come from a set down against Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza in rounds three and four. The two youngsters found themselves up a set, but Serena’s experience and ability to reach another level proved too much. From then on, the world number one didn’t drop a set as she dispatched last year’s runner up, Dominika Cibulkova and American prospect Madison Keys in straight sets on her way to the final.
Maria Sharapova was on the brink of an early exit in round two, but the 27 year old saved match points to defeat Alexandra Panova in three sets. That seemed to light a fire under the world number two, as she went on a tear in the new few rounds. Sharapova dispatched Zarina Diyas, Shuai Peng, Eugenie Bouchard and fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets before eventually losing out to Serena in the final.
It is a wonder whether Sharapova will ever defeat Williams again. When the Russian first burst onto the scene in 2004, she dispatched Serena with relative ease in the Wimbledon final. But since then, she has only defeated the world number one once, and even that was in the same year. Is it mental, is it technical, or is it a mixture of both? Either way, since 2004 Williams has dominated Sharapova in nearly all of their matches, and it’s hard to see that changing. But if Tomas Berdych can beat Rafael Nadal, surely Maria can beat Serena, no?
The legacy of the world number one just continues to grow by the year, and despite being at the ripe age of 33, Serena is still the woman to beat on the WTA tour. Williams has a presence on court that isn’t replicated by anyone else, and with the amount of time off she’s had during her career, I can safely say she will still be around competing for Grand Slams for years to come.
It has been a memorable grand slam, concluded with a great match between the two best players in the women’s game. The collapse of the seeded players in round one, the dream run of Madison Keys and Serena capturing her 19th grand slam title only scratches the surface of what happened in the past fortnight. As usual, the Australian Open didn’t disappoint and the best in women’s tennis will be back next year.
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