MELBOURNE, Australia - Serena Williams held off a determined Maria Sharapova to capture her sixth Australian Open title and the 19th Grand Slam title of her illustrious career, separating herself from Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for second-most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era.
Going into the final, Williams was the favorite - not just because she was No.1 and Sharapova was No.2, but because she had won the pair's last 15 meetings, 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 and the Rod Laver Arena roof closing, 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 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 on the ad side, and she even began celebrating, but the serve was called a let. But she regrouped and fired the exact same ace to finally close the match out.
The No.1-seeded Williams had the victory over the No.2-seeded Sharapova, 6-3, 7-6(5).
"First of all I've got to congratulate Serena on creating history and on playing some of her best tennis," Sharapova said in her runner-up speech. "It's an honor playing against her. I haven't beaten her in a really long time, but I love it every time I step on the court to play her because she's the best, and as a tennis player you want to play the best, so congratulations on such a great achievement.
"It's been a long couple of weeks here for me. I was almost down and out in the second round, and I gave myself a second life in this tournament. It wasn't enough today, but I love it here. I've had some of my best memories on this court and my toughest losses, but that's life as a tennis player."
Williams stepped up to the podium to cries of "I love you" coming from the crowd.
"I love you back - I really do!" Williams replied.
"I have to congratulate Maria, who played a wonderful, wonderful match tonight. She really pushed me tonight. She played so well and gave us a great final - not only for you guys, but for women's tennis and all of the sponsors who support our sport and all of us. I'm honored to play you in the final.
"Growing up I wasn't the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit and support, and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the courts with just a ball, a racquet and a hope. That's all I had. So all you guys who want to do something or be something, just never give up. You never know what can happen or who you can inspire. I'm just so honored."