January 28, 2017
As she served on match point it looked as though she could hardly breathe with all the excitement. Yet Serena Williams steadied herself and moments later she had sealed her place as the greatest tennis player of the Open era, defeating her sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in the Melbourne final.
She moved ahead of Steffi Graf to take pride of place on 23 Grand Slam singles titles. It’s an incredible achievement when you remember her recent disappointments at the US Open and the relentless march of time. We wondered whether it would ever happen. Now she has done it at the age of 35.
Serena said: ‘Wow! First and foremost I have to praise God, because He really got me through this one. I’d like to congratulate Venus, she’s an amazing person, there’s no way I’d be at 23 without her, she’s the only reason I’m standing here today.’
Margaret Court’s total of 24 titles in any era suddenly stands tantalisingly close. If Serena wins the French Open early in the European summer, she can become the undisputed greatest player of all time at Wimbledon 2017.
And even if she doesn’t win Roland Garros, it would still be an historic moment to see her draw level with Court at Wimbledon.
That, however, is for the future. Now is the time to salute a true champion and recognise that anyone who eclipses Graf in the record books deserves all the credit in the world. Deservedly, Serena returns to world number one. How could it be any different?
Even at 36, Venus looked capable of pulling off an upset at times. After the sisters broke each other’s serve for fun in the opening games, Venus finally held to go 3-2 ahead. Serena was then in touble at 0-30.
But for whatever reason, that’s when the unforced errors crept back into the elder sister’s play, and Serena simply stepped up her serve and took over the set to close it 6-4. Perhaps eight years away from a Grand Slam final were too much for those Venus nerves in the big moments.
Once again, Venus competed well for the first half of the second set, with service games held more convincingly. Yet in the seventh game, Venus offered up break points and Serena finally punished her carelessness with a scything backhand winner.
From that point it was a foregone conclusion. Even at semi-final stage, we had suspected that only CoCo Vandeweghe on an extremely good day had what it took to down Serena. It was Vandeweghe, after all, who had disposed of the champion, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza with seeming ease.
Yet Venus beat Vandeweghe to set up the sisters’ final and six out of eight of those had already resulted in a Serena victory. So it proved once more, gamely as she battled, and in the closing stages her body also let her down, as she seemed to experience more pain in her troubled arm.
Venus said: ‘Congratulations Serena on number 23. I have been there with you all the way and sometimes lost right there against you.’
But the Williams family can be incredibly proud of seeing off the female tennis world once more, a process which has resulted in the moment in history Serena so deserves.
And you get the feeling that one more moment of history – the ultimate achievement – awaits the great Serena Williams – and Wimbledon 2017 will probably play a pivotal role.
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