Ma­jor 23: S. Wil­liams in a class by her­self

Aussie ti­tle over Venus gives her Open era record

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CHUCK CULPEPPER

From the wee Amer­i­can hours, it grew hard to process all the mean­ing packed into the go­ing­son from a Saturday night on a hard ten­nis court in Aus­tralia. Not only had one of the long­est, pro­found­est sto­ries in sports found its lofti­est chap­ter, but women’s ten­nis had found its finest Open era player.

First, Venus and Ser­ena Wil­liams, all the way into these late 2010s at ages 36 and 35, played the 28th in­stall­ment of their en­dur­ing and ground­break­ing ri­valry — their 15th in Grand Slam tour­na­ments — in an Aus­tralian Open fi­nal, giv­ing them the rare chance to ex­tol each other elo­quently to a warm crowd in the af­ter­math. In be­tween, when Ser­ena Wil­liams watched one last, dy­ing ball fall harm­lessly wide into the dou­bles lane for a 6-4, 6-4 win, she both

crum­pled to the court and as­cended to the top of the 49-year-old Open era. Yes, there was all of that.

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 all the teem­ing horde of play­ers who have tried the sport since it shed its ama­teurs-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 with 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 a fresh, new stay at the No. 1 rank­ing she lost in September to An­gelique Ker­ber.

Was it the meet­ing of the two or the feat of the one?

In the mid­dle of the night, it was hard to parse it all.

For two play­ers whose com­mit­ment to the game once was ques­tioned at some murky times in the past decade, they met with a longevity that could count as stag­ger­ing. It came 19 years af­ter their sec­ond-round meet­ing in the Aus­tralian Open at ages 17 and 16, which Venus Wil­liams won, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1; 15 years af­ter Ser­ena Wil­liams be­gan turn­ing their ri­valry with a French Open fi­nal win af­ter which Venus Wil­liams joined the pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tur­ing her sis­ter; 14 years af­ter their best match, a smash­ing Aus­tralian Open fi­nal that Ser­ena Wil­liams won, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4; and eight years af­ter their last Grand Slam fi­nal to­gether, which was their sec­ond of two straight Wim­ble­don fi­nals to­gether, with one win each.

The very pres­ence of Venus Wil­liams in a fi­nal brought quite a ques­tion: How does a per­son with seven Grand Slam ti­tles be­come a sur­prise fi­nal­ist? An­swers: when she hasn’t reached one since 2008, when she spent 2011 to 2014 never reach­ing a Grand Slam quar­ter­fi­nal, when she bat­tled an au­toim­mune con­di­tion and be­came an af­ter­thought, when she ar­rived in Mel­bourne com­ing off an arm in­jury in New Zealand and told re­porters of reach­ing a fi­nal, “I mean, hon­estly, all the signs didn’t look that way in Auck­land.”

It meant that af­ter a match Ser­ena Wil­liams con­trolled nar­rowly but firmly, Venus Wil­liams got to stand 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.” From their hair beads as the teenage daugh­ters of clever par­ents who over­came the ab­sence of ten­nis back­grounds, they had sur­passed all the way to an ex­tended post-match hug ev­ery­one could un­der­stand.

Still, groggy Amer­i­can heads had more to mull be­cause this match changed the order of the sport. For the five decades since the sport opened up to all and Nancy Richey won the 1968 French Open, then Bil­lie Jean King won Wim­ble­don and Vir­ginia Wade won the U.S. Open, the sport had found its peer­less player. She was the one her fa­ther, Richard Wil­liams, fore­cast would be the bet­ter of his two daugh­ters, even when Venus Wil­liams be­came the first sen­sa­tion. 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 mil­lions 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.

Bryan broth­ers fall

Third-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States lost the men’s dou­bles fi­nal, 7-5, 7-5, to fourth-seeded Henri Kon­ti­nen of Fin­land and John Peers of Aus­tralia.

The twins were try­ing to win a record-equal­ing 17th Grand Slam dou­bles ti­tle.

On Sun­day, Roger Fed­erer will aim to in­crease his all-time men’s record to 18 Slam crowns when he takes on 14-time ma­jor win­ner Rafael Nadal in the men’s fi­nal.

LUKAS COCH/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Ser­ena Wil­liams, right, beat Venus Wil­liams, 6-4, 6-4, for her sev­enth Aus­tralian Open sin­gles crown.

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