Williams authors history with 23
In the wee hours in North America, it was hard to process all the meaning packed onto an Australian tennis court on Saturday night. Not only had one of the longest, profoundest stories in sports found its loftiest chapter, but women’s tennis had found its finest Openera player.
First, Venus and Serena Williams, all the way into the late part of this decade at ages 36 and 35, played the 28th instalment of their enduring and groundbreaking rivalry — their 15th in grand slam tournaments — in an Australian Open final. When Serena Williams watched one last, dying ball fall into the doubles lane and harmlessly wide for a 6-4, 6-4 win, she both crumpled to the court and ascended to the top of the 49-yearold Open era.
Venus Williams would hug her for a long time and then get to tell the audience, “That’s my little sister, guys.”
Serena Williams would amass her 23rd grand slam title, beyond the teeming horde of players who have tried the sport since it shed its amateur-only status in 1968. She exceeded Steffi Graf’s 22, just as she had exceeded the 18 of both Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and the nine of Monica Seles. Only Margaret Court’s 24, gathered mainly in the years before the Open era, remains ahead of Williams, who has seven Australian Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, six U.S. Open titles, three French Open titles — and once again holds the No. 1 ranking she lost last September to Angelique Kerber.
After a match Serena Williams controlled narrowly but firmly, Venus Williams stood behind her as the younger sibling said, “There’s no way I would be at 23 without her; there’s no way I would be at one without her,” and, “She’s the only reason that I’m standing here today,” and, “Every time you won this week, I felt like I got a win, too.”
Still, groggy tennis fans on this side of the Pacific had more to mull, because this match changed the order of the sport. For the five decades since the sport opened up to all, the sport had found its peerless player.
Nineteen near-eternal years after Serena Williams turned up as a 16-year-old and beat No. 6 seed Irina Spirlea after losing the first set, she had sailed through another Australian Open in 14 spotless sets.
Finally, after all the thousands of shots, she ran down a short forehand and shoved it into the opponent’s backhand corner, where it would be hard to counter. When the reply did what so many have done through the years and floated out — did better than many, actually — it was remarkable, and then remarkable all over again that it came from the winner’s sister. Just processing that kind of thing could keep you up into the night.