Wil­liams authors his­tory with 23

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - CHUCK CULPEPPER

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.

Ser­ena Wil­liams

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