— MELBOURNE, Australia - Serena Williams was as hot in the Australian Open women’s final as the weather has been over the past week Down Under. In the battle for the No. 1 ranking, Williams roasted Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-3 in less than an hour. She convincingly earned her 10th Grand Slam title.
Serena’s win in Melbourne comes on the heels of her U.S Open title last September. Justine Henin was the last to win back-to-back major singles titles at the 2003 U.S. Open and 2004 Australian Open.
Having won back-to-back Grand Slam titles for the first time since her 2002 U.S. Open and 2003 Australian Open success, Williams is in position to eclipse the “Serena Slam” (her 2002 French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open triple and her 2003 Australian Open triumph) and win all four majors in a single year.
Can she do it?
It all depends on her commitment. She must make a pledge to herself. She is talking about history, not about being No. 1. Williams moved ahead of Monica Seles and sits one Grand Slam title behind Australian legend Margaret Court. Billie Jean King has 12 and Serena says that winning 12 is “do-able”.
Based on the way she played against Safina, I would agree. The match was over in 59 minutes, and in that time she made only seven unforced errors. She dominated a very good player and did it the way she has always done it, playing Serena Williams tennis. It was indeed quite a show.
Williams opened the match with a wide serve to the forehand and hit a backhand winner off the return, almost like she was warming up. Safina’s serve can be erratic because her toss is so high. She has a tendency to pull her head down and this led to a problem in her first service game when she served three double faults.
Down 2-0, the No. 3 seed was already in a hole and she was even then starting to feel embarrassed. Williams seemed comfortable and her shots were definitely flowing. The first set was over in just 22 minutes. In a big shot hitting display, the No. 2 seed made an un-Williams-like two unforced errors and hit 12 winners. Safina, feeling overwhelmed, hit four winners and made 12 unforced errors. She held serve twice in the entire match, finally doing it for the first time after 47 minutes had been played.
Having been a little nervous going into the match, Williams admitted after such an easy first set she had to tell herself that Safina was a warrior. You cannot feel sorry for an opponent. She knew that Safina would not quit, especially after having won three, three-set matches to get to this stage of the tournament.
Safina proved how much she has matured, by breaking Williams in the first game of the second set. Everyone hoped that she would stay focused and get into the match, but that wasn’t going to happen. Williams immediately returned to her first set form, breaking back, holding serve and breaking again to lead 4-1.
Having warmed up before the match with her sister, Venus, Williams concentrated on serve returns. I watched them, and her mother, Oracene Price, also her coach, kept telling her to stay low, move in and hit through the shots. Williams had not been pleased with her play early in the tournament. She was angry about her poor footwork, and her mother had been telling her that she was playing “lazy tennis.” That was not the case against Safina.
The crowd, hoping for more of a contest, loudly supported Safina but all the cheering in the world was not about to stop Williams. She is one of the best players in the game when it comes to not letting up. Once she has an opponent down, she will not let up. It isn’t a basketball game so there isn’t a time clock. Williams lost only three games when she defeated Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 for the 2007 title.
If I were Safina’s coach, I would sit her down and point out the positives and not dwell on negatives. She has gotten to the finals in two majors (French Open last year) in a relatively short period of time. She played good tennis to do so and her game is getting better. The most important point of all was that she was facing Serena Williams.
With her victory, Williams, the 2007, 2005 and 2003 Melbourne champion joined an exclusive group including Court, Evonne Goolagong (Cawley), Steffi Graf and Monica Seles as a four-time Australian Open women’s winner. Williams won the doubles with Venus so she also became the first singles and doubles winner since Martina Hingis did the same with Anna Kournikova in 1999.
Williams couldn’t have asked for a better ending Down Under. Now she takes on the challenge of keeping her run going and making strong bids at the three other majors. It’s a steep challenge but at this stage in her career, she appears more than ready for it.