January 31, 2015
If we didn’t know she was truly great before, we do now. Serena Williams has just won her 19th Grand Slam, one more than the legendary Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
And even though she will be 34 this year, Serena is in such crushing form that there is no reason why she can’t add a few more Slams to that incredible total before she finally retires. Margaret Court has 24, Steffi Graf 22. At least one of them is still within Serena’s reach.
Maria Sharapova didn’t play badly, in fact she showed flashes of brilliance. She simply isn’t as brilliant as Williams. That’s what the 16-2 head-told us, that’s what she knew deep down after more than a decade of defeats to Serena.
Williams gives the impression that she has never particularly liked Sharapova either, which helps her play with a focus and aggression against the Russian that she occasionally loses elsewhere.
Serena’s serves were ballistic, her nerve steely, her athleticism, despite suffering from a mild virus, quite breathtaking in itself. The drive, the willpower, the intensity were all there in abundance, amounting to a genuinely irresistible force.
So Serena Williams took the match 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) as expected, though the quality of some of the rallies was so stunning that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to think it was as one-sided as the straight sets suggest.
Serena got off to a storming start by breaking immediately. But she faced a tricky situation when the rain came down at 3-2 and 30-30. Williams appeared to be ill during the break for the roof to be closed.
You might have expected Sharapova to take full advantage and earn herself an equal footing in the first set. Instead it was Serena who came back already in top gear to hold serve and break Maria yet again.
Although Williams double-faulted twice as she served for the set and was broken herself, this was only a temporary blip. Sharapova’s serve looked vulnerable yet again as the ruthless American took her opponent apart to close out the set 6-3.
In the second set Sharapova had half a chance when she enjoyed a 0-30 position on Serena’s serve at 2-2. Williams responded with faultless power-play, and was so angry with herself for offering so much as a glimmer of hope to her opponent that she swore loudly on her way back to her chair.
Serena came back out and offered up exactly the same half-chance two games later. This time Sharapova had a break point but Williams slammed the door shut with more awesome serving.
Considering the umpire had warned Williams for “hindrance” because she celebrated a serve with the ball still in play, this was an extraordinary display of composure from the world number one.
Spell-binding to the last, Williams showed defensive defiance to set up her first match point. Sharapova saved it with a stunning winner and held serve at 5-5. But it was only a matter of time before Maria would crack, because Serena wasn’t going to – not with the greatest serve the women’s game has ever seen ready to rescue her whenever she was under pressure.
It came down to the tie-break and it is a credit to Sharapova that she got that far. But after winning the first point of the breaker, Maria lost the next four. That proved crucial and even though the Russian fought back to save another match point with a clubbing forehand, Williams made history by closing out the breaker 7-4 with an ace.
After jumping for joy and collecting her sixth Australian Open trophy in front of the great Navratilova, an ecstatic Serena said: ‘I love you fans back, I really do. I have to thank Jehova, God for this. Maria really pushed me tonight and helped to make it a great final.
‘I wasn’t the richest when I grew up but we were rich in spirit. I couldn’t imagine standing here with 19 Slams. Never give up. You never know who you can inspire.
‘Patrick my coach, you really believed in me. There were moments when I didn’t believe in myself but you did. I’m so grateful to have you in my life and in my team.’
Sharapova said: ‘I’ve got to congratulate Serena on making history and playing her best tennis. An incredible achievement. I was almost down and out in the second round so I gave myself a second chance but it wasn’t to be. I can’t wait to come back.’