Australian Open 2017

Tennis: Serena Williams lauds slam spirit

Serena Williams with the Australian Open trophy on Saturday. She cited the "incredible" fighting spirit shown by Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Margaret Court.
Serena Williams with the Australian Open trophy on Saturday. She cited the "incredible" fighting spirit shown by Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Margaret Court.PHOTO: REUTERS

Former champions' fighting qualities a vital factor in Williams' record 23rd Major victory

MELBOURNE • Serena Williams says her rise to become perhaps the greatest player of all time is all down to mental strength and never giving up, a trait learnt from Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

The dominant American now holds more Grand Slam titles in the Open era than anyone else, after surpassing Graf's 22 by winning the Australian Open final against her sister, Venus, on Saturday.

Navratilova has 18, along with Chris Evert, while Margaret Court has 24, but only 11 of those were won after the more competitive Open era began in 1968.

Williams said they all had one thing in common - fighting spirit.

"One thing about a champion, they keep fighting, they keep going," said the 35-year-old after her 6-4, 6-4 win at Melbourne Park.

  • Melbourne Park Snippets

  • STAT OF THE DAY

    4

    Number of different US Presidents who have been in office when Serena Williams won a Major title - Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

  • PAYING TRIBUTE TO SERENA

    Serena Williams - that's my little sister, you guys. Your win has always been my win. I think you know that.

    VENUS WILLIAMS, losing finalist

    Congrats to @serenawilliams for this amazing achievement!!! What a historic final- both are true champions.

    ANGELIQUE KERBER, whose 20-week reign as world No. 1 will end today when she is replaced by Serena:

    I'm so proud of you, Serena.

    ALEXIS OHANIAN, Serena's fiance and Reddit co-founder

    23, no words.

    PAUL ANNACONE, former coach of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras.

    Serena and Venus I love you both. Barriers broken smashed and demolished, you represent us all Everytime and we forever love you. Thank you.

    TREY SONGZ, African-American R&B singer

    #GOAT (greatest of all time)

    KOBE BRYANT, basketball legend

    Congrats @serenawilliams on your 23rd major title and return to the top of the @WTA rankings. You are a history maker and a trailblazer.

    BILLIE JEAN KING, tennis great

"I just feel like those four really are incredible fighters. They're mentally tough as well. They always kept going.

"It's something that I learnt from them a lot, is how to hopefully do the same, which hopefully I've been able to do."

She had been reluctant to talk about records in Melbourne to keep the pressure off, but she is now ready to acknowledge her standing as one of the greatest women players of all time, if not the greatest.

"I definitely think so. I mean, between Martina, myself, Steffi Graf, hands down we are leading that conversation," she said.

Her achievement took 19 long years from her Grand Slam debut as a 17-year-old in Melbourne in 1998, and she is not ready to stop just yet.

But she insists there are no new goals, despite Court's 24 titles being within reach.

"I never had a number. That's the beauty of it," she said. "When I started this journey, I just wanted to win a Grand Slam. Then I just wanted to win. Every time I step on the court, I want to win."

And in an ominous sign that there is still more to come, she added: "I don't want it to stop. I want to keep it going."

Being at the top for so long means Williams now carefully selects her tournaments, and she is set to take a break until Indian Wells in early March. She said she wanted to enjoy winning in Australia, and to give it time to sink in.

"One thing I learned in the past is you have to enjoy it. That's the beauty of winning Australia, you have a few months to relax," she said.

"If you win the French, it's like back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Australia, you have time to enjoy the moment before the next Grand Slam."

Her victory at Melbourne Park also returns her to world No. 1 today. She is the oldest woman to win a Major singles title and will be the oldest top-ranked player in the WTA rankings.

She credited sister Venus, 36, for her success. "There's no way I would be at 23 without her; there's no way I would be at (No.) 1 without her," she said of her sister.

"There's no way I would have anything without her. She's my inspiration. She's the only reason I'm standing here today, and the only reason that the Williams sisters exist. So thank you Venus for inspiring me to be the best player I could be and inspiring me to work hard."

She also said it was special having fiance and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in Melbourne.

"He's been so supportive in the stands. Although I never really heard him, even though I heard he was very boisterous," she said. "I'm so focused, I don't hear a lot. I have really selective hearing. It's nice to have that support. It is a wonderful feeling."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Serena lauds slam spirit'. Print Edition | Subscribe