Serena Williams has once again done what she does best - that is win a grand slam final.
The world No1 is an astounding 19-4 in major finals throughout her career. Not even Roger Federer has that kind of record in title deciders – he is actually 17-8.
And even though she felt nervous, was struggling with a bad cough, and hadn’t lifted an Australian Open trophy in five years, Williams managed to fire an 18th ace of the night to seal her 19th grand slam crown and submit Maria Sharapova to 6-3, 7-6 (5) defeat.
On her third championship point, Williams blasted an ace wide but it was called let. Williams’ response? Another ace, in the exact same spot. No one is that clutch. No one other than Serena Williams that is.
“I wasn't confident at all. I thought after the let ‘man, I am not meant to win this tournament’,” said Williams of her thoughts at that final moment.
But she did win it, and in sensational fashion, to take sole possession of second place in the list of grand slam leaders in the Open Era – three behind Steffi Graf and one more than legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
“It just felt so good. I've been through so much the past week. I really, really didn't expect to win,” said the 33-year-old.
“I didn't expect to be here this long. I was walking down the hall yesterday and I was thinking ‘wow, I'm still in the tournament’. It's been a long time since I've been to the final here or the semi-final. It's been a long time coming.”
Sharapova was bidding for a sixth grand slam trophy and was looking to end a 15-match decade-long losing streak to Williams.
The start was always going to be crucial for Sharapova and the Russian did not get off to the best one, double-faulting to get broken after a six-minute opening game and Williams was soon 2-0 up.
Plays was halted with Williams serving at 30-30 in the sixth game due to heavy rain and it took 12 minutes to shut the Rod Laver Arena roof. During that break, the world No1 walked off court and threw up amidst a coughing fit.
“I think in a way that just helped me. I felt better after that. My chest was really stuck at that point,” she explained afterwards.
But neither the coughing, nor the rain interruption seemed to disturb Williams, who sprung an ace and a forehand winner to hold for 4-2 when play resumed.
“I thought ‘I’ve got to hit an ace’. For me there was no other option. And that’s my game, that’s how I play,” added Williams.
The pair gifted each other service breaks with double faults in games seven and eight but Williams took the one-set lead by breaking Sharapova to love with a crosscourt backhand winner. Sharapova struck just three winners in that opening set.
A loud ‘come on’ from Williams after one of her serves in the seventh game saw the American receive a hindrance call. Sharapova then blasted a forehand winner for break point but the No1 seed was unfazed and held serve for 4-3. She even sarcastically gave a very soft ‘come on’ in reference to the hindrance call.
“It just goes to show you I have more fun on the court. I would have never done that three years ago,” said Williams.
Sharapova brought out her boldest move while facing championship point in game 10, unleashing a massive forehand winner which Williams couldn’t help but applaud. And the No2 seed held her nerve to hold for 5-all.
She saved another championship point in the tiebreak but it only delayed the inevitable as Williams stormed to a record-extending sixth Australian Open title to go with her six US Open, five Wimbledons and two French Opens.
Williams gave an emotional speech as she received the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from Navratilova.
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest but I had a rich family in spirit and support,” she said.
“I went on the court with just a ball, a racquet and a hope. You just never give up, you never know who you can inspire and who you can influence.”
Sharapova was clearly disappointed to suffer yet another loss to Williams but she insists she isn’t giving up on ending her losing run against the American.
“I actually believe that we attract what we're ready for. Yes, I haven't won against her many times, but if I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well. I'm setting up a chance to try to beat her and it hasn't happened. I'm not just going to go home without giving it another chance,” said the 27-year-old.
Williams was asked whether she sympathized with Sharapova, who is now 2-17 against her lifetime.
“It’s a tough situation. Normally I would feel sorry for someone like that. Especially someone like Maria who is such a wonderful competitor and a great player and just is a wonderful fighter – you want to see someone like that do well,” said Williams.
“And she does do well. She’s won a lot of titles in her own right and she’s done a lot of things. But when you’re in a sport competing against someone, even my own sister, all the times I play her I want to win. That’s what sport is. It’s about doing your best at all times.”