Given my brain is still operating at 3.46% of capacity and I can’t think of anything original at this present moment, I figured that after I’d written a few Australian Open anniversaries about events in past Men’s Singles tournaments in Melbourne, that I’d now look back at an AO moment involving the better half of humanity that occurred on January 25, and out of the 4 Women’s Singles Finals that have been played at Melbourne Park on January 25 in the Open Era, I think this was easily the best:
January 25, 2003 – Yet another Serena vs Venus Williams Major Final
In the days when Melbourne Park was coloured Kermit green and the Women’s Singles Final was played a Saturday Afternoon (Which worked to the advantage of the American TV audience and shafted the Europeans), the Williams sisters once again swept aside all challengers and brought up the non-calendar year Grand Slam of major singles finals encounters, after playing off in the 2002 French Open, Wimbledon and US Open Finals, all of which were won by Serena in straight sets, propelling her to No.1 in the WTA Rankings for the first time, with Venus having to settle for being a clear No.2 to her younger sister.
Still, I say swept aside all challengers in jest, because two days prior, we were a point away from witnessing Venus (Who defeated Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Semi Final) play Kim Clijsters in the final, after ‘Aussie Kim’ had a 5-1 lead in the final set, plus 2 separate match points on her serve at 5-2 against Serena, only for the World No.1 to produce a comeback for the ages and win 6 consecutive games to advance to the final in Melbourne for the first time, keeping the Serena Slam dream alive.
The final was played under a closed Rod Laver Arena roof, due to Melbourne still dealing with the warmest January conditions since the 1939 Black Friday Fires, and in a nervy opening set with mum/coach Oracene Price looking on, Venus (Who hadn’t dropped a set all tournament) broke Serena’s serve for a 5-4 lead after a 10-minute ninth game, only for Serena to exploit her sister’s weaker second serve, break back, and eventually win the set 7-4 in a tiebreak.
Despite the errors, Venus’ first serve managed to get her back into the match in the 2nd Set, surviving a few nervy service games before breaking her younger sister in the sixth game to lead 4-2 (After blowing the first 3 break points), and the World No.2 sent the final to a deciding set with an ace up the middle to win it 6-3, finally taking a set off Serena in a major final.
After exchanging breaks of serve in the opening 4 games of the final set, Serena had 5 break points on Venus’ serve at 3-4, but Venus would stave them off with some fantastic defensive shots to hold, but Serena would hold for a 5-4 lead despite being taken to deuce, and the scoreboard pressure seemingly got to Venus, as Serena brought up 2 Championship points at 15-40 thanks to a poorly timed double fault, and on the very next point, the Serena Slam became reality when Venus floated a forehand long, bringing an end to another gripping contest between the sisters, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4 the way of Serena, in 2 hours and 22 minutes.
Some Other Noteworthy Facts
At the time, the 2 hour 22 minute Final was the longest competitive match between the sisters, a mark that was surpassed twice – Their 2008 US Open Quarter Final lasted 2 hours and 25 minutes (Serena won in 2 tiebreaks), and a Round Robin match at the 2009 WTA Tour Finals lasted 2 hours and 41 minutes, with Serena also winning in a final set tiebreak.
Ensuring neither of them left Melbourne empty handed, and in an attempt to defeat boredom on their off days, Venus and Serena teamed up and received a wildcard into the Women’s Doubles, and despite being handed the top seeding, the sisters duly won their fifth Grand Slam doubles title as a pair, defeating the World No.1 pairing of Paola Suarez and Virginia Ruano Pascual in 3 sets in the Final on Friday.
Having become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1993-94 to hold all four major titles simultaneously, Serena Williams achieved a second Serena Slam between the 2014 US Open and Wimbledon 2015, but came just 2 wins short of THE Grand Slam in 2015, after a shock defeat to Roberta Vinci in 3 sets in the US Open Semi Final.
At the time, Serena was the second consecutive player to win the Women’s Singles title after saving a match point – Compatriot Jennifer Capriati saved 4 in the second set of the 2002 Final against Martina Hingis before storming to victory, and Williams would achieve the feat again in 2005 when she saved 3 match points against Maria Sharapova in the Semi Final on the way to her second title in Melbourne.
The ’03 singles title kicked off Serena’s run of winning the Australian Open title in odd years – As mentioned above, she won in 2005, defied her World No.81 ranking to win again in 2007, again in 2009 in a lopsided final, before the odd-numbered run was ‘broken’ by defending the title in 2010 – She won again in 2015 and 2017 to make it a lucky 7 titles.
If losing 4 consecutive Grand Slam finals to her younger sister was tough enough to take, Venus Williams also picked up the unfortunate honour of becoming the first player in tennis history to lose 4 consecutive Grand Slam finals – She would have to wait until the 2008 Wimbledon Final to finally defeat Serena in a major final again.
14 years after their 3-set showdown, in something resembling a blast from the past, the Williams sisters, then-aged 36 (Venus) and 35 (Serena) would finally meet in another Grand Slam final in Melbourne, their ninth in all, and their first Grand Slam Final encounter since Wimbledon 2009, which also happened to be Venus’ last major final appearance.
As you probably remember, Serena won in straight sets 6-4 6-4 to win a record 7th Melbourne title, this time without dropping a set, and a record 23rd Grand Slam singles title, passing Steffi Graf for the most in the Open era, achievements that become more impressive with context after Serena revealed she was 8 weeks pregnant with daughter Olympia at the time of the Final.
One of the best sibling pairings in the history of sport…. but you didn’t need me to tell you that.