The spectre of Steffi Graf loomed over the Australian Open final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber on Saturday. If Serena won she would have joined Graf on 22 Grand Slam titles the most ever by a woman in the Open era. Had Kerber won, she would have been the first German woman since Graf in 1999 to win a major title.
Prior to the start of the Australian Open Kerber, who before Saturday was the only woman ranked in the top 10 never to win a Grand Slam title, paid a visit to Graf, hoping to receive the desired inspiration needed to right that wrong. “She was telling me that I’m on a good way and trying to give me positive comments that I should believe in myself and everything is good,” Kerber said of her visit to the now retired icon.
Kerber played with confidence en route to the final. It was she who stopped the fairytale run of Britain’s Johanna Konta in the semi-finals. But getting to the final against a woman who was playing near perfect tennis going in Kerber potentially had her hands full against Serena who had been to the Australian Open on six previous occasions and had never lost.
But Kerber, armed with renewed confidence and buoyed by the idea of defending her countrywoman’s record, proved to have what it takes to win a major title.
Serena meanwhile, was being Serena. She destroyed all who came before her with sublime play but then in the final, all that she had going for her leading up into the final abandoned her.
In the eyes of pundits for Serena to lose this, she had to play badly and her opponent would have to be perfect. Both women obliged. Serena impregnable first abandoned her and she committed 46 unforced errors. In comparison, Kerber committed 13.
In the end, Kerber was the deserved winner.
Serena needs now to look into herself, recognize and accept that she has developed a case of the yips. She still has three other majors to go but if she is to tie and eventually surpass Graf she will have to be better than she has been in her last two Slams.
You have to believe though that she has it within her to do it and if that is the case, Graf may have won this battle but Serena will eventually win the war.