Published December 01, 2016 12:15
Serena Williams roared into the first Grand Slam of 2016 ready to shake off the disappointment of falling two matches short of the Calendar Year Grand Slam. Without dropping a set, the American saved her most dominant performance for the semifinal, where she lost just four games to reigning BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global champion Agnieszka Radwanska.
Across the net from the then-21-time Grand Slam champion in the championship match was Angelique Kerber, a veteran playing the best tennis of her career, but nonetheless in her first major final. Kerber saved a match point in her opening round clash with Misaki Doi and got stronger with each match. She dismantled pre-tournament favorite Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals and eased past surprise semifinalist Johanna Konta to book an encounter with Serena, who was aiming to tie Stefanie Graf‘s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
“The Germans must stick together,” Kerber wryly said of her countrywoman and childhood idol, whose record she sought to protect.
Kerber’s mission got off to the best possible start as she held at love to take the opening set; despite losing the second to an on-fire Serena, she survived a long sixth game in the decider to break serve and take a 5-2 lead.
On the verge of one of her signature comebacks, Serena gamely pushed back to get within one game of leveling the match, breaking Kerber as she served for her maiden Grand Slam victory. Kerber would not be denied, reeling off the last three points to take home the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup Trophy.
“It still sounds a little bit weird,” she told WTA Insider in the post-match Champions Corner, “but I think after a few hours, it’s still coming into my mind that I really won the title and won my first Grand Slam. Like I said, it’s a dream come true, and it sounds really nice.”
Kerber became the first German woman to win a major title since Graf herself in 1999, and the first lefty to win the Australian Open since Monica Seles in 1996. More importantly, it kicked off Kerber’s ascent up the rankings; after starting the season ranked No.10, victory in Melbourne brought her up to No.2 in the world and foreshadowed her eventual acession to the top spot, where she remained by year’s end.
“I’m not the easiest person sometimes,” Kerber reflected. “I had also like a few downs where I was not so believing in myself. All my family and friends, they believe always in me. They told me, Okay, let’s go to work and you will do it someday. Yeah, that’s true what they said actually at the end.
“I think I’m more proud that the hard work is paying off right now.”
— WTA (@WTA) January 31, 2016