MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – A tearful Angelique Kerber stunned an errant Serena Williams to win the Australian Open on Saturday and thwart the American top seed’s bid to equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
In a huge upset, the seventh seed toppled the 34-year-old 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win her maiden major title and become the first German Grand Slam champion since Graf at the 1999 French Open.
Williams, the world No. 1 and defending champion, had won all six previous Melbourne Park finals she had played and had also triumphed in her last eight Grand Slam deciders.
But Kerber, inspired by a good luck message from Graf, knew all the pressure was on her opponent and she mercilessly exploited her weaknesses in a thriller at Rod Laver Arena.
“My whole life I was working really hard and now I’m here and I can say I’m a Grand Slam champion, so it sounds really crazy,” she said, choking back tears.
“The best two weeks of my life and career. I had goose bumps here on the center court when I was playing.”
The left-handed German, whose win will see her move up from world No. 6 to 2, has had an emphasis on consistency in Melbourne, patiently building control of the point as rallies develop.
It worked well with the 28-year-old, who had never beaten a world No. 1 before, dropping just one set en route to the final, in the opening round to Miskai Doi when she saved a match point.
Williams had been in imperious form all tournament, but too many errors cost her dearly against an opponent she had beaten five times before and lost only once.
“I was actually really happy for her. She’s been around a really long time,” said Williams.
“I think I did the best I could today. You know, would I give myself an A? No. But today this is what I could produce today.
“Maybe tomorrow I could produce something different. But that’s all I can go off.”
The imposing American was the overwhelming favorite, having won three of the four Grand Slam titles last year, but said she was only human.
“I mean, every time I walk in this (press conference) room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life,” she told her post-match press conference.
“As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not.”
The German faced the powerful Williams serve first up, and failed to win a point against it, reinforcing expectations that the top seed would take control.
But Kerber began finding her range and against the odds broke to go 2-1 in front.
An out-of-sorts Williams was hitting too many errors, but holding for 2-3 seemed to temporarily flip a switch in the American who broke back.
But the mistakes piled up and Kerber broke again as she dictated the baseline points.
Twenty-three unforced errors from Williams to the German’s three told the story of the first set, which Kerber wrapped up in 39 minutes.
Rattled, Williams cleaned up her act in the second set and it went with serve until the fourth game when two Kerber double faults helped Williams to a 3-1 lead.
She took it into a deciding third set having made only five errors, in stark contrast to her wayward first set.
But it was Kerber who grabbed a decisive break in the third set as she reeled off a brilliant passing shot on her way to a 2-0 lead.
It went with serve until a titanic sixth game, when Williams saved four break points but couldn’t save a fifth as she looped a forehand long.
It spelled the end of the road as Kerber held her nerve to win her first Grand Slam and collapsed to the floor in delight when Williams put another volley long.