Serena Williams claimed her sixth Australian Open title this morning with a tough straight-sets win over long-time nemesis Maria Sharapova. Going into the match, much was made of the fact that Williams had beaten Sharapova the last 15 times they had played each other, a winning streak stretching back to 2004. Despite the scoreline, this match was certainly not a one-sided affair, and the standard of play was high throughout.
The Russian got off to the worst possible start when Williams broke in the opening game. It was clear that the American had brought her A-game, and she was using her thunderous serve to devastating effect. However, Sharapova was not deterred, and chalked up her first game of the match soon after. The two women traded service holds before rain stopped play. During the interruption, Williams reportedly threw up, but her queasiness certainly didn’t affect her game, and she broke again soon after. The World No.2 once again showed though that she was not done yet, and came up with a break of her own.
The best point of a pulsating first set came in the final game. Both players used the full dimensions of the court as they pushed one another from side to side. Williams managed to loop a double-handed backhand on to the baseline, with Sharapova scrambling to retrieve it and scooped it cross-court, putting Williams on the run. The 18-time Grand Slam winner shovelled the ball back in play, but her opponent stepped forward and placed a backhand behind the American. At this point, it looked as if Sharapova had wrapped up the rally, but Williams managed to contort her body and once more flick the ball into play. At this point Sharapova wilted, with her attempted drop-shot just failing to rise above the net cord.
Williams had a spring in her step from this point onwards and duly wrapped up the first set. Despite the disappointment of losing some fiercely-fought rallies, Sharapova was still playing aggressively and was not allowing her more illustrious counterpart to get too comfortable. Despite falling behind in a couple of her service games, the 27 year-old kept coming back to hold, and seemed physically and mentally ready for a third set. There were break point opportunities for both players during the second set, but ultimately none were converted. Williams almost closed out the match at 5-4 and 40-30 on the Sharapova serve, but the 2004 Wimbledon Champion showed incredible resolve to unleash a brilliant forehand down the line.
The match then went to a tie-break, which illustrated just how fine the margins can be in elite professional sport. At 6-4 in the breaker, Williams had another chance to put the match to bed, but once more Sharapova came up with the goods on her forehand. Williams then thought she had won the Championship with an ace, only for it to be called as a let by umpire Alison Hughes. Not to be denied, she slammed down another ace to secure victory and once again prove that she is one of the best of all time. The match itself was a great advert for women’s tennis, which has been criticised in the past few years for not producing enough fierce rivalries, following the steady decline of Serena’s sister Venus due to illness.
Hopefully, the S Williams-Sharapova match-up will rumble on for the next few years, and there will undoubtedly be a number of young guns looking to fill the void when Williams eventually hangs up her racquet. This year’s tournament also saw a number of other intriguing sub-plots, with Madison Keys’ performances being one of the big talking points. The 19 year-old has been talked about for a while as a potential future star and won her first WTA Tour title in Eastbourne last June. She was then plagued by injuries and loss of form for the rest of 2014, but victories over the likes of Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova show she is making a comeback.
Ekaterina Makarova was the other player to make the last four, and is clearly in her tennis-playing prime, having reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open respectively. At the age of 26, she still has time on her side to break into the top 5, and might even have a shot at Major success in the next few years.
Overall, it was a riveting competition, and the climax of the men’s tournament should be just as exciting, with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic going head-to-head in the final tomorrow.
Image courtesy of independent.co.uk