Australian Open 2015: ‘Never give up’ Williams beats Sharapova for sixth title

Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova in straight sets to win her sixth Australian Open title in Melbourne

Neither rain nor flu nor world No2 Maria Sharapova could dampen the spirit or reputation of the inspired and inspiring Serena Williams in Melbourne, as yet again she beat the best that women’s tennis could offer in a high-octane Australian Open final.

Five years after winning her fifth Australian trophy, Williams set a new Open era record with her sixth. She also outstripped Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in the Grand Slam record books with her 19th Major—second only to Steffi Graf’s Open record of 22. And the style of Williams’ victory suggests that she could beat even that despite, at 33, already being the oldest ever Open-era finalist here.

It was a match with all the elements required of a gladiatorial contest: the top two ranked women, a rivalry played out over more than a decade, during which they had become just two of only six women to claim all four Grand Slams.

It was a match of huge intensity, too, as one woman took on her nemesis with more determination than ever. A teenage Sharapova beat Williams to claim her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2004, but not since the end of that same year had she beaten Williams again—had won only three sets in 15 matches.

But this felt like Sharapova’s chance. She arrived in Melbourne with the Brisbane title, survived match-points in the second round, and powered on through her next four matches for the loss of only 15 games. And Williams was decidedly under the weather with a flu virus, to such an extent that she cut her practice session short the day before.

So while Williams always likes to take the initiative with first-strike tennis, here she looked more determined than usual to take control, keep points short, step in for one-two winners.

It worked, too, with an immediate break of the Sharapova serve, and when she looked in danger at 30-30 on her own serve, she simply hit two outright winners.

But Sharapova knew what she had to do, threw in a couple of destructive drop shots, upped her serving level, and soaked in every expression on Williams’ drawn face.

Williams was at 30-30 again in the sixth game when rain forced a break to close the roof. She took advantage of the breather to consult the doctor, and when she came back, she looked increasingly energised and positive. Two straight winners to hold and then two more against the Sharapova serve had the Russian in more trouble, and a double fault brought up 0-40. The two had been painting the lines with their baseline striking, but this backhand went long for another break, 2-5.

Sharapova, so dangerous when behind, saw a chance when Williams double faulted and hit a forehand long, but it would take her four break-point chances to pull one game back.

However, with each point played, Williams looked stronger, and she straight away won a stunning 16-stroke rally against the Sharapova serve, opened up 0-40 lead, and broke for the set, 6-3.

That preluded an hour-long set of huge emotional intensity and power hitting. Williams’s serving, well below its best in the first set, came good with a vengeance, and she opened with a statement display of three aces—one on a second serve—plus a forehand winner.

She pounded to the net to grab the first two points against Sharapova in the next game, but the Russian also aced to fend off two break points.

And so it went on. At every threat, each woman stepped up. In the fifth game, Sharapova made two huge return-of-serve winners, only to see Williams hit three aces on the bounce, and roar to the rafters in celebration.

Then it was Sharapova’s turn to save a break point, only for Williams to repeat her serving magic, again from 0-30 down, with three aces. She thought she had hit a fourth, yelled out, but was docked a point for ‘hindrance’.

Amid such intensity, could she keep it together? She calmly produced a 13th ace. And Sharapova’s reply? An ace to hold for 4-4.

The Russian’s next service game demanded her full attention, and got it. Facing match-point, she outplayed Williams in one of the longest rallies of the match, threw in a drop-shot and watched Williams net the forehand response.

Two quick, ace-packed holds of serve and it was a tie-break, and Sharapova threw down the gauntlet with a blistering return of serve winner off a first Williams serve. But the American opened a 4-1 led with a near-identical response, only to see Sharapova edge closer, 5-6. Even the match-point was eventful: A Williams ace, it appeared, called for a net-cord. Serena forced a wry smile, and calmly hit an ace to the same spot. This time, it was clean, her 18th of the match and her 38th winner, 7-6(5).

If Williams has ever shown more joy in a win, it is hard to recall. She leaped and jumped across the court to her box, and it was to her coach that she extended her gratitude after receiving the trophy from one of the women she had now overtaken, Navratilova.

“Thanks to Patrick [Mouratoglou] for getting me through this. You really believed in me, Patrick. There were moments when I didn’t believe in myself and you did, so I’m so grateful to have you in my life and my team.”

But in an emotional speech, she also talked of self-belief, a rallying cry to those she hopes she has inspired: “Growing up, I wasn’t the richest but I had a rich family and spirit and support, and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen.

“I went on the court with just a ball and a racket and a hope, and that’s all I had. And I hope it’s inspiring you guys out there today who wanna do something and wanna be the best you can be and do the best you can do. You just never give up because you never know what can happen, never know who you can inspire and who you can influence, so I’m so honoured to be here tonight.”

This was surely a big blow for Sharapova, who made few mistakes, showed bottomless determination, but could still not break that losing streak. Yet she was gracious in defeat: “It’s really an honour playing against [Serena].

“I haven’t beaten her in a really long time, but I love every time I step on the court to play her because she’s been the best, and as a tennis player you want to play the best. So congratulations, it’s an incredible achievement.”

Sharapova could have come within touching distance of the No1 ranking with victory, but that, once again, will have to wait. Williams remains the best there is.

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