Against all odds: Serena Williams wins women's final
Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams won her eighth and most improbable Grand Slam title, overwhelming top-seeded Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in the Australian Open on Saturday.
Only the second unseeded woman to win the Australian title in the Open era, Williams came into the tournament ranked No. 81 after spending most of last season on the sidelines because of a knee injury.
It was her first title in 15 tournaments since winning the 2005 Australian Open, and the most dominating win in a completed championship match at Melbourne Park since Steffi Graf beat Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-0, 6-2 in 1994.
Williams finished off Sharapova with a backhand winner, then threw her racket in the air and dropped onto her back on the court.
The 25-year-old American, also the 2003 champion, got up and skipped over to the side of the court, swapping high-fives with mother Oracene Price and other people in the stands before jogging back onto court with her arms up in triumph.
Williams started aggressively and never relented.
She held to open and then won 12 straight points after Sharapova had a game point in the next to jump to a 4-0 lead. Williams saved a break point in the fifth game before Sharapova held at love to make it 5-1.
Williams served out, taking the first set in 26 minutes on her second set point when Sharapova sent a backhand service return wide.
The American broke Sharapova's serve and resolve again to open the second set, then had consecutive double-faults to give the 19-year-old Russian a break point chance in the next game. In a manner typical of her determined performance Saturday, Williams fired an ace to save the break point and held on back-to-back errors by Sharapova.
Williams led 4-0 before Sharapova held again, avoiding the most lopsided women's final ever in the Australian Open.
Serving for the match, Williams fired two aces to earn triple match point, then finished it off in 1 hour, 3 minutes with the backhand winner.
Williams missed nine tournaments immediately after losing in the third round at the Australian Open last year and played only 16 matches in 2006, when she slumped as low as No. 140 in the rankings.
In the men's bracket, Fernando Gonzalez overpowered Tommy Haas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals Friday, winning the first 11 points and not making an unforced error in the first and third sets to reach his first Grand Slam final.
Federer routed No. 6 Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 Thursday night, calling it his best match ever in Melbourne.
"He's the No. 1 player in the world by far. ... I lost many times with him," Gonzalez said. "But now I'm playing much better than the last time we played. And it's only one match. I'm going to give everything that I have to try to win my first Slam."
The rifling forehand that Gonzalez used in his straight-sets quarterfinal upset of No. 2 Nadal was again on display against No. 12 Haas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semifinals.
The Chilean pounded 18 forehand winners, some with a low, flat trajectory that barely grazed the net and others that looped and curled inside the lines. He had 42 winners in all, and only three unforced errors.
Haas said everything he tried backfired, and everything Gonzalez did seemed to work.
"I just have to tip the hat, say that's too good tonight," Haas said. "Nothing I could have done."
Federer has won nine of his 10 major finals. His victory over Roddick put him into a seventh consecutive Grand Slam final, tying a record set in 1934 by Jack Crawford.
Federer has topped the rankings for three years, and Gonzalez understands how high the bar has now been set.
"I'm playing the most important match in my life and he's the best player of the last many years. He's winning all the time," Gonzalez said. "He has to lose sometime. I'm going to try to do it on Sunday."
Gonzalez has improved his temperament, his backhand — where he once felt "a hole" on his left side — and his shot selection. The turnaround started last May when he began working with Larry Stefanki, who previously coached John McEnroe, Marcelo Rio and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
In this event, Gonzalez has beaten former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 5 James Blake and Nadal and is no longer vulnerable on big points. He has come a long way since his first-round exit last year, when he was seeded ninth and lost to American qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr. in five sets.
"I cramped. I lost against a qualifier, playing really bad tennis. Maybe the worst match in my life. Not maybe; I think was," Gonzalez said. "Maybe I was here like three or four days. Now I'm here like three weeks. It's really nice."
Haas said Federer could be in a bit of trouble if Gonzalez keeps his rhythm.
"If he can maintain the level he showed tonight and the last couple of matches ... the stats speak for themselves," he said. "If he can make very few unforced errors, play like he did tonight, I think it would be a good match, and we'll see what happens."
Gonzalez' last two losses to Federer were in finals — at Basel and Madrid late last season.
Federer lost only five matches in 2006, including four in finals to Nadal. Against everyone else, he was 91-1.
Gonzalez promised to use the same tactics that rattled Nadal and Hewitt.
"I never beat him, but in tennis you always have a new opportunity," Gonzalez said. "I have a really nice opportunity now."
Weather: Sunny, high temperature of 75 degrees.
Attendance: (single session) 17,868.
Results: Men: No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez advanced to Sunday's final against defending champion Roger Federer, beating No. 12 Tommy Haas in straight sets.
Women: Cara Black and Liezel Huber won their second Grand Slam doubles title, beating the wild-card rookie team of Chan Yung-jan and Chuang Chia-jung of Taiwan 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1.
Stat of the Day: 3 — number of unforced errors by Gonzalez in his three-set win over Haas, all in the second set.
Quote of the Day: "Roger is No. 1 by far. But there is only one match left in this tournament." Gonzalez, on his chances against Federer in Sunday's final.
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