One is not a lonely number when you share it with your sibling.
Immediately at the coin toss sisters Venus and Serena Williams gathered for pictures turning to face both sidelines of the court. Venus was smiling cheek to cheek, but Serena did not even look at Venus barely smiling herself.
When the match ended, Serena Williams was alone at the top when it comes to Grand Slam achievements in the Open era.
By defeating her sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in the Australian Open final, Serena won her 23rd major title, breaking the record she had shared with Steffi Graf.
The victory also means Serena will regain the world No. 1 ranking from Angelique Kerber, who was eliminated in the fourth round in Melbourne.
“My first Grand Slam started here, and getting to 23 here, but playing Venus, it’s stuff that legends are made of,” Serena said. “I couldn’t have written a better story.”
So many things have happened since her first Grand Slam win including her recent announcement of being engaged. Collectively it is Serena’s seventh Australian Open title and second in the past three tournaments in Melbourne. She also has seven titles at Wimbledon, six at the US Open and three at the French Open. FYI there are three more Grand Slams in the calendar year.
The Compton, CA native remains one Grand Slam championship behind the all-time leader, Margaret Court, who has 24 titles in the Open and amateur eras. Court, an Australian who won 13 majors before the dawn of the Open era in 1968, was among those applauding the Williams sisters at Rod Laver Arena. But there were echoes of Steffi Graf who is third now behind Serena and Court.
Venus, a seven-time Slam champion, (two US Open and five Wimbledon) was in the final of the Australian Open for the first time since 2003. Venus had the crowd down under on her side. Venus like her name says, no matter the amount of Grand Slams, will always be in her own stratosphere. Serena to this day emphasizes she is the bar of competition.
“She’s the only reason the Williams sisters exist,” Serena said, “inspiring me to be the best player I can be.”
I mentioned Venus’ smile during pictures taken at the start of the match. She does that to ease the nerves of her sister. You truly believe not only is she older, but that a loss to her is a win. Many only whisper that Venus and Serena own 14 doubles titles with her.
“Serena Williams … that’s my little sister, guys,” said Venus, who was up first, laughing. “Congratulations, Serena, on No. 23. I have been right there with you.”
The matchup between 36-year-old Venus and 35-year-old Serena was the oldest for a women’s Grand Slam final in the Open era, with a combined 71 years, 11 months. Serena also became the oldest Slam winner in the Open era at 35 years, 124 days. It is worth setting the alarm clock every time at 3 a.m. Eastern when they both face each other on the court.
Serena now has a 17-11 career record against her sister, including a 10-5 advantage at Grand Slams and a 7-2 edge in Slam finals.
“Your win has always been my win. I think you know that I’m enormously proud of you. You mean the world to me.” In a joyous way Serena returned the sentiment.
There will always be more at stake for Serena. The nerves were evident from the coin toss moreover Serena was not moving her feet in the first set because of the nerves. In the second set, the seventh game again proved unlucky for Venus, who was broken to give Serena the decisive edge. She just needed the first set. She is now 21-0 after winning the first set in a major final. After the fourth game of the first set, Serena didn’t face another break point in the 1-hour, 22-minute match.
“I really would like to take this moment to congratulate Venus,” she said. “She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I’d be at 23 without her. There’s no way I’d be at one.”
Venus made her deepest run in a Slam draw since the 2009 Wimbledon final, when she also lost to Serena. But to compete in this crucible, Venus needed to serve fairly flawlessly. Her serve was broken four times Saturday.
“I really enjoy seeing the name Williams on the trophy. This is a beautiful thing,” Venus stated.
It was 19 years ago that they first met here in Melbourne, with Venus winning a second-round match. In 2003, they played their first Australian Open final, and a strong Serena escaped with a three-set win.
They grew up playing together and eventually playing matches. They don’t practice together anymore. They have separate teams, coaches, hitting partners etc. To this day you cannot separate them from the game of tennis. They are one.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.