For just about any tennis analyst, there were two clear choices for the women’s champion at the 2016 Australian Open: Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Fittingly, Angie Kerber went through both of them to win the first Grand Slam title of her career.
In an absolute thriller, Kerber, who joins Steffi Graf as the only German women in the Open Era to lift a major trophy. defeated Williams, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the most compelling and well-played women’s Grand Slam final since Maria Sharapova edged Simona Halep at the 2014 French Open.
The first set was marked by nerves, but surprisingly those nerves came from the player attempting to make history rather the one simply seeking to become a part of it. Serena was all over the place early on, spraying 23 errors in the first set, and Kerber, played her lefty counterpunching style to near-perfection, did her part in forcing her opponent to always have to hit an extra ball.
After Kerber coolly served out the opening set at love, Williams finally got going. Shaking off the point blank misses, she seized control in the second and forced a deciding set, where she has historically been nearly unstoppable.
The last time Serena lost a match after forcing a third set was way back in 2013 at Wimbledon to Sabine Lisicki. That’s not just at the Grand Slams, that’s at any WTA tournament, period. Since that defeat, Williams was 18-0 in completing her comebacks. Not only that, Williams came into the match having won 13 of her last 14 major finals, including her last eight.
However, just as she persevered in saving match point in her first round match, Kerber did not fold under the pressure. Instead, it was the underdog who led 5-2 in the third thanks to breaking the Williams serve for 4-2 in a marathon game. Williams showed her championship fight, breaking Kerber to get back on serve at 4-5. Then, just as Serena did to Garbine Muguruza at Wimbledon last year, Kerber broke Williams to win the match and the tournament.
For Williams, her pursuit of matching and surpassing Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slams hit a roadblock, though she’ll safely remain World No. 1 and be the heavy favorite at the Slams to come.
As for Kerber, she’s hitting the pinnacle of her career at 28 years old, vaulting up to No. 2 in the world and adds her name to the illustrious list of Grand Slam champions.