by Kevin Craig
Angelique Kerber stunned the tennis world on Saturday in Melbourne as she defeated Serena Williams to win the Australian Open title, 6-4 3-6 6-4. The win gives Kerber her first major title in her first attempt as she became the first German woman to win a major title since Steffi Graf won the French Open in 1999.
The match started off as many would have expected, Williams held at love in the first game and got up 15-30 in Kerber’s first service game. The German quickly calmed down, though, as she won three points in a row to get the hold and then applied her own pressure on return, getting two break chances at 1-1. Kerber only needed the first chance as she broke to go up 2-1, then held for a 3-1 lead. Williams, who is used to being forced to fight from behind, had no issue getting the break back and levelling things at 3-3. Kerber, though, was up to the task again and broke right back to regain her lead, and would hold on to it this time as she closed out the set only losing one point in her last two service games.
The second set was much more straightforward as only one of the nine games played saw the returner get past 30. That one game was the difference though, as Williams had two break chances at 2-1 and took advantage of the second one to go up 3-1. That was all she wrote in the set as Williams would go on to force a decider. Williams’ ability to calm her nerves and focus better after going down a set saw her unforced errors tally drop from 23 in the first to just five in the second, allowing her to get back into the match.
Kerber and Williams exchanged breaks early in the third as both attempted to get out to a lead in the deciding set. Kerber was the one who was able to break and then consolidate later in the set, as she broke to go up 4-2 and held at love for a 5-2 lead, looking as if she was well on her way to the title. The game in which she broke was a 16-point game that lasted more than 11 minutes, and was further proof that Kerber belonged on this stage. It was not to be for Kerber on the first attempt though, as Williams broke the German as she served for the match. With the 21-time grand slam champion getting back on serve in the final set, all the momentum felt as if it was on her side of the net. Despite the momentum shift, Kerber was able to relax on the changeover and regroup, as she would go on to have a championship point as Williams served at 4-5. At advantage-Kerber, Williams sent a volley long, crowing Kerber the 2016 Australian Open champion.
The German was just too good for Williams as she hit only 13 unforced errors in the match, seven of which came in the second set, which she lost. Kerber winning the title in Melbourne this year looked unlikely in the first round as she was down a match point to Misaki Doi in her opening match. If she had lost in the first round, it would have matched her 2015 result at the Australian Open in which she lost her opening round match to Irina-Camelia Begu. That was not the case though, as Kerber fought back from the edge in the first round and would go on to only lose one more set en route to her maiden grand slam title. The win will see her move up to No. 2 in the world rankings, behind only the woman she beat in the final on Saturday.