Chicago Sun-Times

In sis match, Ser­ena pre­vails

23rd Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tle breaks Open Era record

- SANDRA HAR­WITT

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.’’

 ?? | KIN CHEUNG/ AP ?? Ser­ena Williams ( right) em­braces sis­ter Venus af­ter beat­ing her 6- 4, 6- 4 in the Aus­tralian Open fi­nal Satur­day morn­ing.
| KIN CHEUNG/ AP Ser­ena Williams ( right) em­braces sis­ter Venus af­ter beat­ing her 6- 4, 6- 4 in the Aus­tralian Open fi­nal Satur­day morn­ing.

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