SER­ENA THE GREAT

One slam away from Court’s record

Sunday Herald Sun - - Aus­tralina Open Fi­nal - AARON LANG­MAID aaron.lang­maid @news.com.au

SER­ENA Wil­liams has taken a step closer to ten­nis im­mor­tal­ity by re­claim­ing her Aus­tralian Open crown and her sta­tus as world No.1 on a grand slam week­end for the his­tory books.

Wil­liams beat sis­ter Venus in a straight-sets win, earn­ing her a sev­enth ti­tle Down Un­der and her 23rd ca­reer ma­jor.

Last night’s ti­tle com­pleted an Aus­tralian Open cam­paign in which Wil­liams did not lose a set.

Watched on by her fi­ance, Red­dit co-founder Alexis Oha­nian, the 35year-old showed she was still a force with which to be reck­oned by ac­count­ing for her older sib­ling.

In a mo­ment that en­thralled the packed sta­dium, the sis­ters shared a warm em­brace after her win.

Ac­cept­ing the tro­phy and her $3.7 mil­lion win­ner’s cheque, Wil­liams cred­ited her sis­ter for help­ing her ce­ment an as­ton­ish­ing ca­reer. “There is no way I would be at 23 with­out her,” she said.

“There is no way I would be at one with­out her. She is my in­spi­ra­tion, she is the only rea­son I am stand­ing here to­day and the only rea­son that the Wil­liams sis­ters ex­ist.”

She said Venus, who has fought back from a near ca­reer-end­ing au­toim­mune dis­or­der, had in­spired her to work harder. “Thank you for in­spir­ing me to be the best player that I could be,” Ser­ena said.

Wil­liams is now just one grand slam win away from the record of 24 ma­jors held by Aus­tralia’s Mar­garet Court — who was in a stand to wit­ness last night’s match.

From the mo­ment the pair walked out there was no deny­ing the ap­peal; not just sib­ling ri­valry but a tus­sle be­tween two of the long­est-serv­ing ten­nis play­ers on the women’s cir­cuit.

It wasn’t un­til the sec­ond set that the younger Wil­liams found her form after a scrappy and of­ten awk­ward open­ing per­for­mance lit­tered with un­forced er­rors.

Wil­liams smashed her rac­quet in frus­tra­tion just three games in.

Her nerves ap­peared to ease in the sec­ond, but not with­out a fight from Venus, who at 36, was mak­ing a lit­tle his­tory of her own.

It was her first grand slam fi­nal ap­pear­ance in eight years. And even in de­feat, Venus spoke glow­ingly of her op­po­nent. “Con­grat­u­la­tions Ser­ena on num­ber 23,” she said.

“I have been right there with you; some of them I lost right there against you. It has been an awe­some thing, that your win has al­ways been my win.

“Those times that I couldn’t be there, didn’t get there, you were there. I am enor­mously proud of you, you mean the world to me.”

In her post-match press con­fer­ence, Venus said she was not dis­ap­pointed by the out­come.

“I’ve been here be­fore, you know. I re­ally en­joy see­ing the name Wil­liams on the tro­phy. It is a beau­ti­ful thing,” she said.

Speak­ing at her post-match press con­fer­ence, Ser­ena said she could not have notched up her 23rd ca­reer ti­tle in a bet­ter place. “It’s such a great feel­ing to have 23,’’ she said.

“It re­ally feels great. I’ve been chas­ing it a long time, and when I got it on my radar I knew I had an op­por­tu­nity to get there.

“And there is no bet­ter place to do it than in Mel­bourne.”

She said notch­ing up the mile­stone along­side her sis­ter had been par­tic­u­larly fit­ting. “I re­ally felt like to­day win or lose there was no way I could lose,” Wil­liams said.

“Even a loss wouldn’t have been a loss be­cause I knew how hard Venus had worked. It was just a win-win sit­u­a­tion for me.

“Venus and I work so hard. Still to this day we work side-by-side each other at prac­tice.”

She said no win was worth more than the re­la­tion­ship with her sis­ter.

The win was an open-era record for Wil­liams, who has now won one more than St­effi Graf’s 22 ma­jors. She is also the old­est woman to ever claim the top prize at Mel­bourne Park.

A com­bined day-night crowd of 39,927 headed to Mel­bourne Park yes­ter­day. Or­gan­is­ers ex­pect that fig­ure to be sur­passed by the show­down be­tween Roger Fed­erer and Rafael Nadal later to­day.

MAR­GARET Court had the best seat in the house on Rod Laver Arena last night and, con­sid­er­ing the his­toric ram­i­fi­ca­tions, that was en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate.

Now 74, and still good enough to hit a de­cent ball, Court’s hold on the lofti­est bench­mark in grand slam ten­nis is un­der grow­ing siege after Ser­ena Wil­liams’ lat­est win.

At the peak of her pow­ers at age 35, it seems en­tirely in­evitable Wil­liams will soon catch and then over­take Court’s long-stand­ing grand slam record of 24 sin­gles ma­jors.

If so, it will stand as one of the most re­mark­able sport­ing feats of all time, given the var­ied and com­pli­cat­ing lay­ers of Wil­liams’ rise from the fringes to great­ness.

The fin­ish­ing touches to her 23rd ma­jor were shrouded with nerves. Un­der­stand­able given the iden­tity and qual­ity of her op­po­nent.

Un­ques­tion­ably, Ser­ena has played bet­ter through­out a stel­lar ca­reer and fac­ing Venus added a dis­con­cert­ing el­e­ment.

How­ever briefly, Ser­ena’s pas­sage to a sev­enth Aus­tralian Open crown was threat­ened by her older sis­ter’s enor­mous tenac­ity.

The anx­ious glances Ser­ena shot at her sup­port box in­di­cated just how dif­fi­cult it was.

Only 10 points sep­a­rated the pair by the end, Ser­ena win­ning 69 to Venus’s 59.

Their games, a vir­tual mir­ror im­age, de­liv­ered sim­i­lar fig­ures — 27 win­ners and 23 un­forced er­rors for Ser­ena; 21 and 25 for Venus.

When it was over, the emo­tional flood­gates opened and the sis­ters em­braced at the net.

Ser­ena fi­nally re­laxed, break­ing into a huge grin be­fore sit­ting with her head bowed on her court­side chair. Re­lief cloaked her. In the front row, Court ap­plauded. No­body, es­pe­cially the ca­pac­ity crowd at Mel­bourne Park last night, has any doubts about Wil­liams’ bona fides.

But even as the Daphne Akhurst Memo­rial Cup was pre­sented to Wil­liams, Court ex­uded not a hint of envy or dis­con­tent.

Court’s story, if not her record, will stand the test of time and, in its own way, echoes that of Wil­liams.

Born gen­er­a­tions apart, Court and Wil­liams share a com­mon bond — both in terms of back­ground and achieve­ment.

Court, like Wil­liams, hailed from an un­der­priv­i­leged back­ground. Court first learned how to play ten­nis with a fence pal­ing.

Her ten­nis dream took hold prin­ci­pally be­cause of the gen­eros­ity of oth­ers, who en­abled sear­ing am­bi­tion.

By 17, she won the first of her 24 sin­gles ma­jors.

She would ul­ti­mately win 64 grand slam ti­tles — with an ad­di­tional 19 in dou­bles and 21 in mixed dou­bles.

No player, in­clud­ing Wil­liams, has built such a pro­lific record across the three dis­ci­plines.

Only Court and Kim Cli­jsters have man­aged the ex­tra­or­di­nary feat of win­ning three grand slam sin­gles ti­tles after de­liv­er­ing a child.

Court’s triple came in 1973 when she al­most com­pleted another grand slam sweep, win­ning the Aus­tralian, French and US and fall­ing in the semi-fi­nals at Wim­ble­don.

None of this di­min­ishes Wil­liams. In fact, it un­der­scores the di­men­sion of her achieve­ments and Court, un­like Wil­liams, never had a sis­ter of com­pa­ra­ble abil­ity to over­come in ma­jor fi­nals.

Pic­tures: WAYNE LUD­BEY, JULIE KIRI­A­COUDIS, AAP

Ser­ena Wil­liams proves too strong for her sis­ter Venus (op­po­site page) last night, win­ning her sev­enth Aus­tralian Open 6-4 6-4. Ser­ena needs just one more slam to join Aus­tralian Mar­garet Court (op­po­site, watch­ing on last night) as the over­all record holder.

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