Serena Williams won her 19th Grand Slam title, continued her unbeaten run in six Australian Open finals and extended her decade-long domination of Maria Sharapova with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory despite a hacking cough on Saturday night.
After celebrating prematurely on her third match point, letting her racket go before hearing a let call to what she thought was an ace, Williams had to quickly re-gather her composure.
“I thought, `Wow this is it, I did it, only to hear let. I was like, `OK Serena!” she said. “I was very disappointed, because Maria was playing so well. I thought she’s going to try to hit a winner now. She’s goes for broke on match point.”
Top-ranked Williams took a deep breath and fired another ace — her 15th of the set and 18th of the match — and this time the celebration was real.
She jumped around like a little child, bouncing up and down, before shaking hands with Sharapova at the net.
“I’m so honored to be here tonight and to hold this 19th trophy (at) my favorite stadium,” Williams said.
The 33-year-old Williams became the oldest winner of the Australian women’s title in the Open era and moved into outright second place on the list of major winners in the Open era, behind only Steffi Graf’s 22.
Still affected by a recent cold, Williams controlled the first set around a rain delay in the sixth game, when play was stopped for 13 minutes for the roof to be closed. Williams came back on court momentarily near the end of the break, but returned to the locker room.
“I had a really bad cough, I ended up throwing up, actually. I think that helped me when I got it out,” Williams said. “I’ve just got a really bad cold, a really bad cough. Usually when that happens you stay in bed, you don’t play matches every day.”
She came back from the break and fired an ace to start a run of six straight points. She was broken while serving for the set but broke Sharapova for a third time to clinch it.
Williams won the first six points of the second set, too, and seemed on course for another lopsided victory before Sharapova started hitting out.
The five-time major winner had 18 of her 21 winners in the second set, cutting down her unforced errors and fending off four break points.
No. 2-ranked Sharapova saved two match points, including one in the 10th game when she bravely hit a forehand winner down the line — applauded by Williams — and she calmly held serve twice to stay in the match.
Sharapova forced a tiebreaker and then took the first point off Williams when she leaped into a service return down the line.
But Williams rallied again and relied on her serve to keep the points short, missing a second match point when Sharapova hit a winning service return. Williams didn’t relent, though, and secured the title that lifted her above the career records of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who had 18 Grand Slam singles titles.
Williams had one of her most consistent matches in the tournament. As well as the aces, she won 37 of the 44 points when she got her first serve into play, was only broken once and hit 38 winners.
She was aggressive from the start, pumping her fist and screaming “C’mon” after big points. But she had to tone it down after going slightly too far in the seventh game of the second set when the chair umpire ruled a hindrance when she celebrated too early on a service winner and was docked a point.
When she eventually held that game with an ace, she held out her fist and didn’t utter a sound.
“I know the rules now. I’m not one to argue unless I’m sure that I’m right … If anything I need to relax more,” Williams said. “At that point, I was so uptight.”
Williams now has won 16 in a row and is 17-2 in career matches against Sharapova, who hasn’t won a head-to-head meeting since 2004.
Two of Williams’ six Australian titles have come with straight-set wins in the final against Sharapova, the first in 2007. While the American has a 100 percent record at Melbourne Park, Sharapova dropped to 1-3 in Australian Open finals — her only victory coming in 2008.
“I haven’t beaten her in a long time but I love every time I step on the court with her,” said Sharapova, who had to save two match points in the second round. “I’ve had some of the best memories of my career on this court and also some of my toughest losses, but that’s the life of a tennis player.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press