Melbourne, Jan 31:
American star Serena Williams held off a determined Maria Sharapova of Russia to win her sixth Australian Open title and the 19th Grand Slam title of her career, separating herself from Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the second-most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era.
The No.1-seeded Williams recorded a straight sets 6-3, 7-6(5) victory over the No.2-seeded Sharapova.
Going into the final, Williams was the favourite – not just because she was World No.1 and Sharapova No.2, but because she had won the pair’s last 15 clashes, 12 of those coming in straight sets.
Early on in the match that pattern continued, with Williams breaking in the very first game and, after a short rain delay, grabbing a second break for 5-2.
Sharapova got one of the breaks back in the next game but Williams broke one last time to take the first set 6-3.
All of that went out of the window in the second set, as the top 2 players in the world held tightly to all of their service games, with absolutely no breaks of serve – Williams did have her chance to finish the match with Sharapova serving at 4-5, 30-40, the first match point of the night, but the Russian bludgeoned a forehand down the line for a winner and subsequently held that service game.
The tie-break was tight but Williams forged ahead, building a 6-4 lead, and after Sharapova fought off a second match point with another huge forehand down the line.
Williams had the match on her racquet, stepping up to the baseline to serve on match point No.3. There was a bit of a hiccup – she fired what looked like a massive ace out wide, and she even began celebrating, but the serve was called a let. But she regrouped and fired the exact same ace to finally close it out.
Williams came into the Australian Open tied with Evert and Navratilova for the second-most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era, but she now has the stand-alone second-most with 19. Steffi Graf has 22. (IANS)