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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, January 28, 2017

 
Venus Williams, Serena Williams

"It's really awesome. I really wanted it. I really wanted to get to 23 so bad, more than you can ever imagine. I can’t believe it," said Serena Williams after capturing her Open Era-record 23rd major championship.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Holding history in her hand, Serena Williams paused for a moment before serving championship point.

Glancing across the net at older sister Venus Williams, Serena soaked up the beauty of a continuing a life-long rally with her best friend on this major stage. Then she fixed her focus back on the ball completing a career milestone.

Watch: 10 Facts About the Williams Sisters

Nineteen years after the Williams sisters squared off in their first professional meeting in Melbourne, the most successful sister act in sport staged another family reunion in the Australian Open final.

Commanding the center of the court, Serena hit her way into history defeating Venus, 6-4, 6-4, to claim her seventh Australian Open title and Open Era-record 23rd Grand Slam championship, breaking the mark she shared with Steffi Graf.




"I really wanted it," Serena told ESPN's Chris Evert afterward. "I really wanted to get to 23 so bad, more than you can ever imagine. I can’t believe it. I had no idea I’d be number one either. I literally had no idea."

The 35-year-old Serena retained sisterly superiority beating 36-year-old Venus for the seventh time in nine Grand Slam finals.

The world No. 2 will regain world supremacy surpassing Angelique Kerber for the world No. 1 ranking when the new WTA rankings are released on Monday.

Serena’s name will be etched on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup awarded to the champion. The extended embrace the sisters shared afterward reminded Venus’ role inspiring Serena’s journey to history.



“I really would like to take this moment to congratulate Venus, she’s an amazing person,” Serena said during the trophy presentation. “There’s no way I would be at 23 without her, no way I would be at one without her. She’s my inspiration, the only reason I’m standing here today, the only reason the Williams sisters exist. So thank you for inspiring me to work hard every time you won this week I felt I won too.”

It is Williams’ 10th Grand Slam title as a thirty-something and puts her one major behind matching all-time Grand Slam title leader Margaret Court, who watched the final from the box.

Beaming with pride big sister gave a runner-up speech of grace and class praising the sister she inspired reminding  in a solo sport family roots run deep.




“That’s my little sister, guys,” Venus said afterward. “Congratulations Serena on number 23. I’ve been right there with you. Some of them I’ve lost against you. Your win has always been my win. I think you know that. All of those times I didn’t get there, couldn’t get there, you were there.

“I’m enormously proud of you, you mean the world to me… God willing, I would love to come back. Thank you for all the love.”

The reigning Wimbledon champion did not drop a set defeating four former or current Top 10 players—Belinda Bencic, Lucie Safarova, Johanna Konta and Venus—en route to her 72nd career singles championship. Serena has won six of the last 10 Grand Slams she's contested.

The serve and return were key components in her eighth win over Venus in their last nine meetings. Serena served 10 aces and permitted just seven points on serve in the second set.

Prowling inside the baseline to pounce on her housemate's second serve, Serena won 15 of 21 points played on Venus' second serve, converting 4 of 11 break-point chances.

"This was a lot different because there was so much riding on this on both our ends,” Serena said. “Venus was trying to get to her eighth Grand Slam. Me, obviously, trying to get to 23. But also, we’re both thirty-fun so it’s a big moment for us.

"Venus has been playing really, really, really well and I just had to put all that in the back of my head and I was like I just want to win this match.”

Fourteen years after their last Australian Open final face-off that concluded with Serena seizing her first Serena Slam, the sisters reunited at net for the coin toss for their ninth meeting in a major final.

Beneath a colorful visor, Venus wore a wide smile, while Serena seemed to purposefully avoid making direct eye contact with her old sister.

Venus Williams, Serena Williams

Opening jitters were evident early as they traded four breaks to open the final.

Second-seeded Serena correctly anticipated a Venus approach and ripped a forehand pass to break in the opener. Venus answered with an immediate break back.

Frustrated by a slip, Serena cracked her Wilson racquet to the court in the third game before settling in for her second straight break. Audible gasps from the crowd at the pace of some shots the sisters traded prompted chair umpire Alison Hughes to ask for quiet while the ball was in play.



Exploiting a tense two double fault game from her sister enabled Venus to break back before stamping the first hold at 30 for 3-2.

Settling in on return and moving her feet faster helped the six-time champion shake the nerves. Serena slashed backhand return down the line, followed it forward and spun a slick backhand drop volley winner, Federer-style, for break point. Bolting a backhand return winner down the opposite sideline, Serena scored her third break for 4-3 sending fiancé Alexis Ohanian out of his seat in celebration.

That break settled Serena as she belted a backhand down the line snatching her third straight game.

Sliding her seventh ace down the middle, Serena sealed the 41-minute opener at love. She was one set from history and a historic Grand Slam closer: the younger Williams was 20-0 when winning the opening set in Grand Slam finals.

Both sisters ravaged second-serve returns throughout the first set. Venus won 10 of 14 points played on Serena’s second serve, while Serena won eight of nine points played on big sister’s second serve in the opener.

Defending her serve with vigor in the semifinals, Venus denied 12 of 13 break points rallying past CoCo Vandeweghe. Serena is quicker off the mark and a more accurate returner than Vandeweghe and quickly jumped out to a triple break point lead in the third game of set two.

Seeing older sister wobble, crowd encouragement spiked. Venus’ serve sharpened and she fought off all three break points finishing with a flying forehand down the line for 2-1. Elevating into serve, Venus slid an ace out wide, holding at 15 for 3-2—the eighth straight hold in a match that began with four consecutive breaks.

Serena Williams

Midway through the set, Serena began tuning into the groove on her groundstrokes, driving the ball down the line off both wings. Ripping menacing returns, Serena tightened the screws in the seventh game. A backhand down the line drew an error for a third break point. Jumping all over a second serve, Serena crushed a vicious backhand return breaking for 4-3.

That break brought a sense of finality as the second seed powered through a love hold—her seventh straight hold—for 5-3.

Venus Williams, Serena Williams

Big sister wasn’t about to go quietly.

In a tremendous rally that popped with pace and angle, Venus drew an error and Serena paused to gulp some deep breaths down 15-30 as she served for the championship.

Serena’s skill changing direction down the line was a key to the match. She crunched a backhand down the line for 30-all.

A netted error brought Serena to championship point as she exhorted herself to “fight, fight.” Racing up quickly to a short ball, Serena lifted a forehand down the line dropping to the court in celebration and rising with a record after 81 minutes of play and a lifetime rally with her sister, opponent and biggest fan.

"I can’t even describe it, really," Serena said. "Words can’t describe how happy I am for this moment, especially here in Melbourne. We started here. This is my first Grand Slam. To get to number 23 here is really rather special.

"Against Venus as well where my first Grand Slam match was against her right on this stadium court. So it was weird. I just feel like it’s all come full circle."


 

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