SERENA Williams extended her winning streak against Maria Sharapova to 16 matches to claim a 19th grand slam title in the Australian Open on Saturday.
Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 (5)
Williams shrugged off a coughing fit and lengthy rain delay in the opening set and fired down 15 aces in the second to battle to a 6-3 7-6 (7/5) victory in an hour and 51 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
The hard-fought win means Williams has now won one more grand slam singles title than Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and is just three behind the open-era record of 22 held by Steffi Graf.
Navratilova was on hand to present the trophy to Williams, her sixth Australian Open title and first since 2010.
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest but I had a rich family in spirit and support,” Williams said at the presentation. “Standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen.
“I went on the court with just a ball, a racket and a hope and that’s all I had. It’s inspiring for you guys that want to be the best you can be, you never give up because you never know what can happen and who you can inspire and influence.
“I have to congratulate Maria who played a wonderful match. She really pushed me tonight. She played so well.”
Sharapova, 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.”
Sharapova, whose last win against Williams came in November 2004, got off to the worst possible start, serving a double fault to lose her serve in the opening game of the match.
Williams held serve comfortably to move 3-2 ahead and was serving at 30-30 when rain forced the retractable roof to be fully closed, leading to a 12-minute delay.
Sharapova remained on court during that time but Williams left and was on her way back when a coughing fit delayed her return further, although the top seed promptly served an ace and hit a forehand winner to hold.
Williams then made it six points in succession to claim a second break and although she promptly lost her own serve, she responded by breaking Sharapova for a third time to take the set in 47 minutes.
Sharapova had to come up with some impressive serves, including two aces, to save two break points at the start of the second set, but Williams was not to be outdone in the serving stakes.
The American hammered down 11 aces in four service games and shrugged off the loss of a point for prematurely celebrating what she thought was another one, Sharapova somehow getting a backhand return back into court.
That “hindrance” call led to a break point for Sharapova in the seventh game but Williams accepted it without question and went on to hold serve to keep her nose in front.
Serving second, Sharapova was under intense pressure in each service game and had to save a match point at 4-5, producing a forehand winner right into the corner that even had her opponent applauding.
A tie-break was required to decide the outcome and after losing the first point, Williams took the next four in succession before two unforced errors briefly gave Sharapova a lifeline.
A forehand return winner then gave Williams two more match points and after Sharapova had saved the first, Williams thought she had served an ace on the second, only for a let to be called.
Williams managed a rueful smile before composing herself and thumping down her 18th ace of the match to seal victory.
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