SERENA THE GREAT
One slam away from Court’s record
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.
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.