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Williams defeats Sharapova to clinch 19th major title

By Danielle Rossingh

Serena Williams battled through illness to beat Maria Sharapova in the finals of the Australian Open to win her 19th major singles tennis title.

Williams, struggling with a virus, defeated Sharapova, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) at Rod Laver Arena in the first women’s final between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in Melbourne since 2004. It’s her sixth title at the season’s opening Grand Slam.

“Growing up, I wasn’t the richest but I had a rich family in spirit and support,” Williams told the crowd after she received her sixth Australian Open trophy from former winner Martina Navratilova. “Standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the court with just a ball and a racket and a hope, and that’s all I had.”

At 33, Williams is the oldest women’s champion in Australia since tennis turned professional in 1968. The top-seeded American, who tied Chris Evert and Navratilova with 18 majors at the U.S. Open, is now equal with Helen Wills Moody, who won 19 Grand Slam singles titles between 1923 and 1938. Williams is now three titles shy of Steffi Graf, who holds the Open era record with 22. Margaret Court has the overall record with 24 won between 1960 and 1973.

‘Down and out’

Williams said she had at times been “down and out” but found the strength to win. She thanked her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, for “helping me get through these two weeks.”

Williams’s victory extends her dominance of the 27-year-old Russian to 17-2. Both of Sharapova’s victories date to 2004, when she surprised Williams in the finals of Wimbledon and won at the women’s tour championships in Los Angeles.

In today’s match, Williams produced 38 winners, including 18 aces. Sharapova had 21 winners, of which five were aces.

“I’ve got to congratulate Serena on creating history, on playing some of her best tennis,” Sharapova told the crowd. “It’s really an honor playing against her, I haven’t beaten her in a long time but I love every time I step on the court against her because she’s been the best, and as a tennis player, you want to play against the best.”

Although Sharapova had won the toss and elected to serve, she started nervously, getting broken on a double fault as Williams stood inside the court ripping returns.

Fever

Williams had been struggling with a virus for the past few days that had put fellow American Varvara Lepchenko in the hospital. Jill Craybas, a former U.S. player, told the British Broadcasting Corp. earlier today that Williams had a temperature of 102 Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) before the match.

Williams, coughing between points, easily held for a 2-0 lead before Sharapova produced a love game to get on the scoreboard.

Rain stopped the match with Williams serving at 3-2, 30-30. After both players sat down, the tournament referee decided to close the roof and turn the match into the third indoor women’s final in Australian Open history.

Williams had a coughing fit when she walked back onto court, then left again. After seeing the tournament doctor, she re-started her service game with an ace and then broke to love to take a 5-2 lead.

After clawing one break back as Williams produced two double faults, Sharapova handed her opponent three set points with a wayward forehand.

Second set

After winning the first set with a backhand winner, Williams didn’t drop a point in her first two service games of the second set, mixing serves of up to 202 kilometers-per-hour (126 miles-per-hour) with slice serves down the middle. Facing two break points at 1-0 down, Sharapova produced an ace and a service winner before holding.

Getting a better read of Williams’s serve, Sharapova got to 0-30 at 2-2, only for her opponent to hold with three aces. On game point at 3-3, Williams celebrated immediately after hitting a forehand winner off a big serve, and got the point taken away because of hindrance by umpire Alison Hughes. After Sharapova mishit a return on break point, Williams calmly held with a forehand winner.

Serving to stay in the match at 5-4 down, Sharapova held after she saved a match point with a blistering forehand winner. Serving at 6-5 down, Sharapova forced her opponent into a tiebreak, which she started with a forehand winner. Williams answered by winning four straight points. Facing two more match points, Sharapova saved the first with another big forehand.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Maria Sharapova of Russia in their women’s singles final match on day 13 of the 2015 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 31, 2015.

Ace winner

Serving at 6-5, Williams thought she’d won the match after she hit an ace, only for the umpire to call a let. Williams regrouped, and then hit another ace in the same spot to win her 19th major.

“Maria played a wonderful match tonight, she really pushed me,” Williams said.

After exiting all three majors before the quarterfinals in 2014, Williams rebounded in New York, beating Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki in the finals. Afterwards, the American said the chase for her 18th major had put her under a lot of strain.

Unbeaten so far in 2015, the victory cements her position as the world’s top-ranked female tennis player. Sharapova, a five-time major champion and the world’s highest-paid female athlete, will remain No. 2 after the tournament.