MELBOURNE, Australia – Germany’s Angelique Kerber delivered a shocking knockout punch to defending champion and world No. 1 Serena Williams, the 28-year-old lefthander winning her first major title 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the Australian Open final.
It was a performance for the ages from Kerber, ranked No. 6 in the world.
Williams, winner of three majors last year and eight of the last 14, lost Saturday on the cusp of tying Steffi Graf’s Open era count of 22 Grand Slams for the second straight major. At the U.S. Open, the American was stopped in the semifinals by world No. 43 Roberta Vinci.
“You did so well, let me be the first to congratulate you,” a teary-eyed Williams said on court. “You truly played so well in the moment.”
Kerber also fought off tears as she addressed the crowd, but ones of joy.
“I was with one leg in the plane for Germany,” she said of nearly going out in the first round. “I take my chance to be here in the final and play against Serena. My dream come true tonight, on this night. My whole life I was working so hard and now I can say that I’m a Grand Slam champion… it sounds so crazy.
She was undaunted by Williams’ 21-4 title tilt record coming in. The 34-year-old owned a 5-1 head-to-head advantage, as well, including four in a row in straight sets.
Kerber was at her retrieving – and attacking – best on a still and beautiful night at Rod Laver Arena, jumping to a 3-1 lead as Williams flooded the court with error-ridden tennis. Williams evened things at 3-all but watched as she made error after error, giving Kerber the break back. Serving for the first set at 5-4, Kerber raced to a 40-love lead and Williams netted a forehand, the crowd bursting into applause for the 40-minute set.
“I think my phone is exploding right now,” Kerber said, confirming she got a congratulatory message from Graf. “I don’t know how many messages I get. It’s like amazing.”
It has been a standout effort of a major for Kerber, who was a Grand Slam semifinalist at the U.S. Open in 2011 and Wimbledon in 2012. A top 10 resident since then, she saved a match point in her first round encounter with Japan’s Misaki Doi and charged through former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 7-5.[…]