Serena Williams’ serve is often described as the greatest in the history of the women’s game and tonight it propelled the 33-year-old American to her first Australian Open title for five years. Williams hit 18 aces, including 15 in a superb display of serving power in the second set, as she beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 in a memorable battle between the world’s two best players.
The victory extended Williams’ extraordinary domination of Sharapova, who has now lost to her 16 times in a row, but the Russian could be proud of her performance in a final of the highest quality. In the second set in particular Williams’ serve was all that separated her from the world No 2.
“I have to congratulate Maria, who played a wonderful, wonderful match tonight,” Williams said afterwards. “She really, really pushed me tonight and she played so well.”
By winning her 19th Grand Slam title Williams moved clear of Martina Navratilova, who presented the trophy to the world No 1, and Chris Evert on the all-time list of Open era champions. Margaret Court (24 titles) and Steffi Graf (22) are now the only two players ahead of Williams. “Standing here with 19 championships is something I thought would never happen,” Williams said at the presentation ceremony.
In a ferociously competitive match there were probably more shouts of “Come on!” than there were aces. Both women were clearly fired up for the contest.
Williams has been suffering with a virus for the last week and had lasted only five minutes of a practice session on Friday. She was still under the weather in the final, which was evident when she left the court as play was held up for 12 minutes early in the first set because of rain.
Serena Williams wins the 2015 Australian OpenSharapova, who saved two match points in the second round against Alexandra Panova, added: “I have to congratulate Serena on creating history and playing some of her best tennis. It’s an honour playing against her. I’ve not beaten her in a really long time but I love stepping on the court every time because she has been the best and you always want to play the best.
“I was almost down and out in the second round so feel I gave myself a second life in this tournament. It was not quite enough today but I am proud of my effort. I had some of my best moments on this court but also some of my toughest losses but that’s the life of a tennis player.”
Maria Sharapova was unable to cope with Serena Williams’ power“I ended up throwing up,” Williams said later. “I think that helped me when I got everything out of me, cleared my chest out. I just got a really bad cold and a really bad cough. Usually when that happens, you stay in bed and don’t play matches every other day and practise every day.”
Sharapova was broken in the first and seventh games, broke back when Williams double-faulted twice when serving at 5-3 but then dropped her serve to love to hand the American the opening set.
The second set was much tighter as Sharapova raised her level. The world No 2 was always prepared to go for her shots and served better than she had in the first set. Having to serve second, she was always under pressure but responded superbly to the challenge.
Williams celebrates a point in her Australian Open victory over SharapovaThe problem for Sharapova was that Williams rarely struggled on her own serve and had to defend only four break points in the whole match. Whenever Sharapova made inroads into the American’s service games, she always found the perfect response. Having gone 0-30 down at 2-2 in the second set, for example, Williams went on to hold serve with three aces.
Two games later Williams held serve again despite losing a point under the “hindrance” rule. The American roared out too early after hitting what she thought was a game-winning ace. Nevertheless she kept her composure and went on to take the game.
After Williams had held for 5-4 the DJ played “Staying Alive” at the changeover. That was appropriate for Sharapova, who in the following game saved a match point with a bold forehand winner which even Williams applauded.
Although Sharapova won the first point of the tie-break with a crunching forehand return winner down the line, Williams was soon 4-1 up. Sharapova saved a second match point with a big forehand winner but was unable to defend a third. Williams thought she had won the title with a huge ace struck wide to Sharapova’s backhand, only for the umpire to call a let, upon which a bewildered Williams dropped her racket to the floor. Seconds later, however, she hit exactly the same spot to secure victory with her 18th ace of the match.
Sharapova, who had saved two match points against a qualifier in the second round, said: “It’s been a long couple of weeks for me. I was almost down and out in the second round. I feel like I gave myself a second life in this tournament. I’m proud of my effort over the last couple of weeks here.”