"REMARKABLE AND SPECTACULAR FEAT - SERENA" "YOU DESERVE ALL THE ACCOLADES AND ATTRIBUTES" "KEEP YOUR HEAD TO THE SKY"
Serena Williams Captures Fourth Straight Major
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY The New York Times
MELBOURNE, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 25 Less than a year ago, after she had to withdraw from the Australian Open (news - web sites) with a sprained ankle, she was still trying to catch up with her big sister. But in a breathtaking, fist-pumping, title-gobbling She confirmed it today at Rod Laver Arena, maintaining her edge over her older sibling Venus by a much slimmer margin than usual to win this year's Australian Open, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, and become only the fifth woman to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles at once.
"It's really special to have come such a long way," she said.
It was not quite a true Grand Slam, which requires winning the Australian Open, the French Open (news - web sites), Wimbledon (news - web sites) and the United States Open in the same calendar year. That feat was achieved by Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988. Instead, Serena has chosen to dub her run the Serena Slam, an allusion to Tiger Woods's similar achievement in golf.
But whatever she or we choose to call it, there is no question that Serena's achievement is one of the most remarkable of the past decade in women's sports, all the more so considering that the depth and talent continue to increase in women's tennis, along with the physical demands.
The muted celebration after she broke Venus's serve to win the match was hardly in harmony with the moment, but then, no matter how many times the Williams sisters play on grand occasions, it is still not nearly as satisfying to beat your sibling and closest friend as it is to thump somebody outside the family circle. If this victory had come against Lindsay Davenport or Kim Clijsters, Serena would presumably have been shrieking with delight and pirouetting all over the Rebound Ace surface. Instead, when the last of many errant forehands from Venus sailed long to complete this match, Serena smiled and jogged to the net to shake hands and embrace her sister.
After more smiles and a few waves to the crowd, she was soon sitting in her chair, with a distant expression on her now familiar face. But when it came time to give her victory speech, the depth of her feelings surfaced.
"I never get choked up, never, but I'm really emotional right now and really, really happy," she said, beginning to cry. "I'd like to thank my mom and dad for always supporting me."
Unable to continue because of her tears, the extroverted Serena left the microphone and returned to her customary place on the last Saturday of Grand Slam tournaments: next to her sister Venus with a bigger trophy in her hands.
They are the first players in the 35-year Open era to have played in four consecutive major finals, and the 21-year-old Serena has won all four. Today's victory gave her a 6-5 career edge over Venus in matches, as well as a career edge in Grand Slam titles. She now has five to Venus's four.
"You have a great champion," the 22-year-old Venus told the crowd in her postmatch remarks. "Now she's won all four Grand Slams, which is something I would love to do someday. I'm trying to be just like her."
Venus got closer to victory today than she has in more than a year. Although this was their most competitive match in a Grand Slam tournament and the first to go three sets, Venus's nerves and two weakest shots the second serve and the forehand ultimately made the difference.
This was far from a great tennis match, certainly not by the standard of other memorable, three-set women's finals. Although both served relatively well, they still combined for 106 unforced errors: 54 for Serena and 52 for Venus. But there were several remarkable rallies and plenty of all-court play, with both coming to net with some frequency.
On the eve of this latest match, the Williamses' mother and coach, Oracene Price, who has reverted to her maiden name since her divorce from Richard Williams last year, expressed frustration with the public reaction to her daughters' dominance in Australia and elsewhere.
The Williams sisters had never played in a final at the Australian Open, yet there had been a palpable sense of resistance in the stands of Melbourne Park to the idea of a fourth straight all-Williams final in a major, with Serena's and Venus's victories being greeted in generally subdued fashion by the crowd and even with occasional boos.
Price believes there is more behind the ambivalence than just a craving for something new and a desire to support the underdog, which at this stage in women's tennis is anyone who is not named Williams.
Price said she believed there was also a racial component at work, suggesting that there were no complaints when Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert dominated women's tennis to much the same degree as her daughters do now.
"I don't quite understand that, because I've seen in the past with the same people getting into the same position, and it wasn't that big an issue," she said of public resistance to the prospect of all-Williams finals.
"I don't know really what the deal on that is: I guess it's because the environment of tennis has mostly been white. Especially over here in a culture where you see that people have conquered other people who were indigenous to this country. And the same thing in the United States. And I think it's a bit of arrogance, more or less: who has to be on top and who has to be on the bottom."
Price's reaction was triggered in part by the behavior of the crowd in Rod Laver Arena during Serena Williams's remarkable comeback from a 5-1 deficit in the third set in the semifinals to defeat Kim Clijsters of Belgium.
Clijsters, a 19-year-old who dates the Australian tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, is increasingly popular in Australia and was clearly the sentimental favorite during the match. But the crowd's favoritism intensified after Serena took two consecutive injury timeouts when trailing by 1-2 in the final set to have blisters on her right foot treated.
Rebound Ace, the rubberized hardcourt surface used here, is particularly punishing on players' feet, more so when the temperatures rise. One of Serena's blisters developed in her three-set, first-round match against Emilie Loit of France and had to be lanced afterward. It began bothering her again in the Clijsters match and, according to Price, was affecting her movement. The punctured blister certainly looked painful when a television cameraman showed footage of it as the trainer unwrapped the tape on Serena's right foot.
But the crowd could not see that image, and many of the fans interpreted her consecutive injury timeouts as an attempt to break Clijsters's rhythm. There was whistling and booing when Williams returned to the court, and the crowd roared when she missed a return on the first point. The next point was replayed after spectators shouted during the rally.
Clijsters and her coach, Marc Dehous, said they had no problem with Williams's seeking treatment at that stage of the match. Clijsters, after all, did win the next three games to take a 5-1 lead before Williams raised her game and intensity.
But Dehous said he understood the booing. Serena has acquired a reputation on the WTA Tour for making excuses in defeat, and Dehous alluded to her comments after Clijsters beat her in the final of last year's WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles.
"Even after the loss in the Masters, Serena said she was feeling tired, but she only played 13 tournaments last year," Dehous said.
"So maybe they are a little bit the cause of that themselves," he said of the sisters and the booing, "because of what they say and how they act."
Asked what might change the public's attitude, Price answered, "I don't think anything can change it.
"Because people have to change here," she said, pointing to her heart.