In sis match, Serena prevails
23rd Grand Slam singles title breaks Open Era record
MELBOURNE — There was a great deal at stake for Serena Williams in the Australian Open final early Saturday morning, far more than having to push aside her older sister.
For Serena, the 6- 4, 6- 4 win to hoist the Australian Open trophy for a seventh time establishes a record. At 35, she is the only player — male or female — to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era.
‘‘ It’s such a great feeling to have 23,” Williams said. ‘‘ It really feels great. I’ve been chasing it for a really long time. It feels like a really long time. When it got on my radar, I knew I had an opportunity to get there, and I’m here.”
Now that Williams has Steffi Graf in her rearview mirror — the two were tied at 22 Grand Slam titles since Wimbledon last year — she can look ahead to the next record to break.
Australian Margaret Court holds the overall record with 24 Grand Slam titles, an achievement that spans the pre- Open and Open eras. Court was in the crowd watching Serena inch closer to her claim to fame.
Williams was also in position to return to the world No. 1 ranking if she won the title. But she had no idea that was in the offing as her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told her a fib by saying it wasn’t a possibility.
‘‘ She trusts me because I never lie unless it’s for her own good,” said Mouratoglou, laughing. ‘‘ She’ll forget. Give me a few weeks, and she won’t think about it anymore. But, actually, I think she’s happy I did it now.”
Williams admits she was clueless that she could take back the No. 1 ranking she relinquished to Angelique Kerber when she fell in the U. S. Open semifinals and Kerber went on to win the title.
‘‘ In the beginning of the tournament, I was like, ‘ If I win, will I be No. 1?’ ” Williams said. ‘‘[ Mouratoglou] said, ‘ No, no, no.’ Today on the court . . . I was like, ‘ Whoa, really?’ ’’
In Mouratoglou’s mind, a win was essential for Williams to start the season. After she lost in the U. S. Open semis to Karolina Pliskova, she hung up her rackets for the rest of the year.
At Auckland, her first tournament this year, Williams was flat in her only match. She lost in three sets to fellow American Madison Brengle in the opening round and did so with a shocking 88 unforced errors.
Williams was already the oldest women’s champion at a major in the Open Era, a record she set by winning the 2016 Wimbledon title at 34 years and 287 days old.
At the outset of the match against Venus, 36, there were definite nerves on both sides with the first four games seeing service breaks. From there, they settled into the outing, but still returning better than serving.
In the end, it was Serena who secured the upper hand. She just had that little something extra to get the job done in 82 minutes.
For now, the sisters have played on 28 occasions, and Serena has won 17. In Grand Slams, Serena leads Venus 10- 5 in overall matches and 7- 2 in finals.
‘‘ Playing Venus, it’s stuff that legends are made of,” Serena said. ‘‘ I couldn’t have written a better story.’’