In two utterly contrasting passages to women’s singles final, the underdog had the last word over a clear favorite. This author had written earlier that Belarusian Victoria Azarenka looked in the champion’s mould this year but she needed to first get across through Angelique Kerber. Vika failed and Kerber not only won but went all the way through to hold aloft the coveted Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup as the 2016 Australian Open champion. It was the same Kerber, who had been down a match point against Japan’s world no.64 Misaki Doi in first round. As for Serena Williams, she had bludgeoned her way through the final without dropping a set and stood on the verge reaching the figure of 22, the number of Grand Slam singles titles that Kerber’s compatriot Steffi Graf had won. But the American fell just as she had, in trying exactly that at the 2015 US Open. There, Serena was shocked by Roberta Vinci in the semifinals and now Angelique Kerber has produced another shock. After a couple of games in the first set, Kerber looked a better player on court as she kept her game generally error-free, while Serena kept piling up unforced errors. After Kerber took the first set from Serena, the top seed won the second but couldn’t stop the charged-up Kerber from achieving her goal in the deciding set. It was the first time that Kerber had played the final of a Grand Slam tournament and she came out with flying colors at the cost of the great Serena Williams.
The incomparable Serena Williams was defeated by someone, who was no.6 in the world, when the Australian Open began on January 18, 2016 but when the new WTA rankings are announced on February 1, Angelique Kerber would jump four places to take the second spot behind Serena. On Saturday, Kerber wasn’t so sure of herself, as Serena served powerfully in the opening game and won that at love. After leveling at 1-1, Kerber grew in confidence and broke the American in third game to go up 2-1. Even so early in the match, Serena had uncharacteristically begun committing too many errors while Kerber ensured that the ball was put back in court. Regardless, the champion broke the German to level at 3-3. With Kerber playing a great baseline game, she broke the top seed yet again in 7th game. There was no looking back for Kerber now as Serena’s unforced error count kept mounting. She had 23 of them in the first set alone, which Kerber won 6-4 in 39 minutes.
The champion made a comeback in second set by improving her game. Serena took advantage of Kerber’s double fault and broke her to lead 3-1. From here, Serena forced the pace and Kerber wilted. In the second set, Serena’s unforced were restricted to 5 compared to Kerber’s 7. With set parity restored; the match went to the decider.
While Serena came closer to winning her 22nd Grand Slam title, Kerber had other ideas. She won the opening game and broke Serena in second game to go 2-0 up. However, Serena broke right back and thereafter, they kept holding their serve until the fifth game. The sixth was an epic and things changed from there. Serena’s movements became tardy and she lost the first point. Then after winning the next, she mistimed a backhand volley to trail 15-40. Now Kerber had two break points. Serena’s first service was a fault but the second service followed a long rally that refused to end. Finally Serena’s power was too much for Kerber as the German lost one opportunity. Next, Serena served an ace and game came to deuce. With the defending champion going in the error mode, Kerber got her third break point but another ace from Serena brought it to deuce again. One more point for Serena gave her a chance to survive. When everyone thought that the game was going Serena’s way, a double fault from the no.1 player and an erratic shot presented the fourth break point for Kerber. But the German couldn’t get the break as Serena continued to mix errors with brilliance. The American’s sixth double fault gave the fifth break opportunity to Kerber and this time she didn’t miss. The 4-2 lead for Kerber at this stage was an ominous signal for Serena.
After next two games went on serves, it was crunch time with Kerber serving at 5-3 for the biggest win of her life. Signs of nervousness showed as the German went down 0-30 but on next point, Serena’s backhand error made it 15-30. Then Serena won a baseline rally and held two break points. The tension at Rod Laver Arena was palpable. Kerber managed to save one but lost the second and Serena survived. As the American prepared to serve in trying to save the match, Kerber pushed her as the scores reached 0-30. But Serena pulled back to make it 30-30 and with a long rally ending in her favor, Serena almost saved herself with a game-point in her hand. But Kerber had not given up; she produced a great service return for deuce. On the next point, when Serena sent a straightforward forehand into the net, it was match point for Kerber. It became unbelievably easy for the German on the next point, when her return of service was met with Serena’s forehand that went miles over the line. Kerber dropped herself on the turf in stunned disbelief. Then she stood up, went to Serena across the net for the handshake but couldn’t prevent tears of joy from flowing. A new champion was born on Saturday.
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