Serena Williams has won a record 23rd Grand Slam women’s singles title, taking her seventh Australian Open crown with a 6-4 6-4 victory over sister Venus Williams on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena.
Her 23rd major title passes Steffi Graf’s 22 as the most successful women’s player in the Open era; Serena is now only one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time record.
As the lights dimmed and the 35-year-old prepared to walk to the dais to hoist the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for a seventh time, Serena changed into a pair of custom-made Michael Jordan-style Air 23 shoes.
The red and black Nikes were a fitting tribute to her remarkable achievement after a final which started amid tension and finished with the younger of the two siblings falling to the ground in jubilation, her hands and feet planted on the blue hard court in front of her.
With the victory, Serena moves back to world No.1, dethroning Angelique Kerber, the woman who denied her in last year’s Melbourne Park decider.
She has now won 23 of 29 major singles finals.
Older sister Venus, in her first Grand Slam decider since Wimbledon 2009, has now lost eight of her past nine meetings with Serena, but will rise to No.11 in the rankings after her best Australian Open showing since 2003, when she was also runner-up to Serena.
“This was a tough one. I just kept praying and I’m here,” Serena said before paying tribute to her sister.
“She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I’d be at 23 without her. There’s no way I would be at (number) one without her, there’s no way I’d have anything without her.
“She’s my inspiration, she’s the only reason I’m standing here today and the only reason the Williams sisters exist.
“Thank you Venus for inspiring me to be the best player that I could be and inspiring me to work hard – every time you won this week, I thought ‘I’ve got to win too’.”
Pressure had started to take a heavier toll on Serena as she closed in on major records in recent years.
She fell in two Grand Slam finals last year before claiming a seventh Wimbledon crown in July.
And in the battle of the two oldest Australian Open finalists in the Open Era, neither player was able to capitalise early on, with the weight of history showing on Serena.
When she slipped changing direction for a drop shot in the third game of the match she snapped her racquet in fury, drawing an immediate code violation.
Despite going on to break for 2-1, a third double fault ensured a fourth-straight service break to open the match.
Where Serena had become accustomed to dominating and intimidating her opponents without the loss of a set this tournament, she was being pushed back and dealt a dose of her own medicine.
She raised her level, however, to bring up break point with an exceptional backhand volley winner before thundering a backhand down the line for 4-3.
She closed out the opening set with back-to-back aces.
With the crowd rallying behind her, the 36-year-old Venus – making her 17th appearance at Melbourne Park – dug deep to avoid the early break in the second set, hitting back-to-back forehand winners to hold from 0-40 down for 2-1.
Sensing her opportunity to end it in two, however, Serena converted on a third break point opportunity for 4-3 with a 138km/h backhand return winner leaving Venus stranded.
In the first major final between the siblings since Wimbledon 2009, Serena would close out her 17th triumph from 28 meetings after 82 minutes.
“Congratulations Serena on No.23,” Venus said.
“Some of them I’ve been right there with you, some of them I’ve been right there against you.
“Your win has always been my win. All the times I couldn’t be there, wouldn’t be there, didn’t get there, you were there.
“I’m enormously proud of you. You’re the world to me.”
When asked what would happen should she reach 24 Grand Slam singles titles, Serena put the numbers into perspective perfectly.
“Then I won’t be in the Jordans anymore.”