The women’s singles final at the Australian Open between the Williams siblings was no classic. But the character of the match aside, Serena Williams achieved something no woman player has done in the Open Era. In beating her elder sister Venus, Serena broke Steffi Graf’s long-standing record of 22 Grand-Slam wins. With 23 major titles against her name, Serena is now just one short of Australian legend Margaret Court’s all-time best of 24 Grand Slams victories. One of the most remarkable things about Serena Williams is the time-span that encapsulates all her Grand Slam wins. The first one came on September 11, 1999 in US Open, when she wasn’t quite 18 and more than 17 years later; she has recorded her 23rd Grand Slam victory at Melbourne on January 28, 2017. That was also Serena’s 7th Australian Open title and the lady is not done yet. On that count too, Serena has come on level terms with Margaret Court, who also won at Melbourne for seven consecutive years between 1960 and 1966.
Saturday’s final was quite a forgettable affair with Serena landing herself into all sorts of problems at the start. She had been billed as a strong favorite and broke Venus’s serve in the first game. But Venus broke right back to nullify the advantage. In the third game, Serena found another break and yet again Venus came back to pay the younger sister back on the same coin. In between, a frustrated Serena was served a code violation for smashing her racquet. It was clear that Serena was tense, low on confidence and struggling to find her bearings. The 6-time Melbourne champion had already committed 13 unforced errors and the match hadn’t reached even the sixth game. On the other side, Venus was more composed and the Rod Laver Arena crowd backed her up. Venus kept Serena dancing from end to end with some deeply placed shots but in the seventh game, Serena broke again to lead 4-3 and followed that up by holding her serve. At 5-3 for Serena, Venus took one more point but Serena closed the first set at 6-4.
The second set saw better play from the sisters. They started by holding their service easily in the first two games before Venus went down 0-40 in the third. She saved the first break point with a great service down the line to which Serena’s return was long. Venus saved the second, when Serena’s return to another good service crashed into the net. Venus’s first service worked twice more and she not only saved all break points but held a game point now. She took it easily in a brilliant comeback. Unfortunately for Venus, that bravado didn’t last long as Serena capitalized on her sixth break opportunity to lead 4-3 and won her own service game next to make it 5-3. The crowd still backed Venus and cheered wildly, when she made it 5-4 by winning on her service next. In tenth game, Venus went up by a point when Serena lost two points to trail at 15-30. But Serena earned her first match point by forcing Venus into errors. Soon, it was all over. Serena didn’t waste much time and when the victorious moment came, she fell back on the court in celebration of her 23rd Grand Slam title. After Serena’s 6-4, 6-4 victory, the sisters embraced at the net and champion’s smile broadened. To watch Serena’s historic achievement, Australia’s 24-time Grand Slam winner from Amateur Era, Margaret Court was present in the stadium. There is a widespread belief, shared by 18-time Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova that Serena will overhaul the legendary Australian before the American’s playing days are over.
Saturday, however, brought disappointment to USA’s men’s doubles pair of Mike and Bob Bryan, who couldn’t reach the milestone of 37 Grand Slam wins. Their 5-7, 5-7 loss against Finland’s Henri Kontinen and Australia’s John Peers denied them the chance of overtaking Todd Woodbridge’s 36 Grand Slam victories in doubles. Kontinen/Peers were too sharp at the net and though the Bryans Brothers did their best, they bowed out in the end. The 2017 Australian Open will conclude on Sunday with a keenly awaited men’s singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. For Indian tennis fans, Sania Mirza’s mixed doubles final with her Croat partner Ivan Dodig against USA’s Abigail Spears/Colombia’s Juan Sabastian Cabal will also be an engrossing affair.
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