MELBOURNE • A tearful Angelique Kerber stunned an errant Serena Williams to win the Australian Open women's singles tennis title yesterday and thwart the American top seed's bid to equal Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam crowns.
In a huge upset, the seventh seed toppled the 34-year-old 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win her maiden Grand Slam title and become the first German major champion since Graf at the 1999 French Open.
Williams, the world No. 1 and defending champion, had won all her six previous finals at Melbourne Park and had also triumphed in her last eight Grand Slam deciders.
But Kerber, 28, inspired by a good luck message from Graf, knew all the pressure was on her opponent and she mercilessly exploited the American's weaknesses in a thriller at Rod Laver Arena.
"My whole life I was working really hard and now I'm here and I can say I'm a Grand Slam champion, so it sounds really crazy," she said, choking back tears. "The best two weeks of my life and career."
The left-handed German, whose win will see her move up from world No. 6 to No. 2, focused on consistency in Melbourne, patiently building control of the point as rallies develop.
The American had been in imperious form throughout the tournament, but too many errors cost her dearly against an opponent she had beaten five times before and lost only once.
"I was actually really happy for her. She's been around a really long time," said Williams. "I think I did the best I could."
The German faced the powerful Williams' serve first up and failed to win a point against it, reinforcing expectations that the top seed would take control.
But Kerber began finding her range and, against the odds, broke to go 2-1 in front. Twenty-three unforced errors from Williams to the German's three told the story of the first set, which Kerber wrapped up in 39 minutes.
Rattled, Williams cleaned up her act in the second set and it went with serve until the fourth game when two Kerber double faults helped Williams to a 3-1 lead. The American took it into a deciding third set having made only five errors, in stark contrast to her wayward first set.
But it was Kerber who grabbed a decisive break as she reeled off a brilliant passing shot on her way to a 2-0 lead. It went with serve until a titanic sixth game, when Williams saved four break points but could not save a fifth as she looped a forehand long.
It spelt the end of the road as Kerber held her nerve to win her first Grand Slam and collapsed to the floor in delight when Williams put another volley long.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,THE TIMES, LONDON