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Serena Williams bests sister Venus for Australian Open championship

Serena Williams is alone at the top when it comes to Grand Slam achievement in the Open era.

By defeating her sister Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the Australian Open final Saturday, Serena Williams won her 23rd major title, breaking the record she had shared with Steffi Graf.

Serena Williams has experienced some high-anxiety moments in major matches, and she did again on Saturday. In the early going, she smashed her racket in frustration after falling down on the baseline, and she served three tentative double-faults in a span of four points.

However, she soon settled down — and made history. Serena closed the match on her first championship point, charging the net with a forehand that Venus could not successfully return.

As difficult as it must have been to play against her sister, the enormous reward will likely help compensate for any mental anguish.

It’s Serena Williams’ seventh Australian Open title and second in the past three tournaments in Melbourne. She also has seven titles at Wimbledon, six at the US Open and three at the French Open.

She remains one Grand Slam championship behind the all-time leader, Margaret Court, who has 24 titles in the Open and amateur eras. Court, an Australian who won 13 majors before the dawn of the Open era in 1968, was among those applauding the Williams sisters at Rod Laver Arena.

Saturday’s victory also means Williams will regain the world No. 1 ranking from Angelique Kerber, who was eliminated in the fourth round in Melbourne. Next week will be Williams’ 310th at the top of tennis.

Venus Williams, a seven-time Slam champion, was in the final of the Australian Open for the first time since 2003.

In an on-set interview with ESPN, Serena Williams received a letter of congratulations and a pair of shoes from NBA Hall of Famer and legendary No. 23 Michael Jordan. One shoe was red and black — the Chicago Bulls‘ colors — and the other was a more Serena-esque pink.

“Thank you, Michael. I can’t believe I’m saying thank you Michael Jordan,” Williams said. “He’s the greatest.”

Tennis icon Billie Jean King also sent a pair of tweets Saturday morning to honor the Williams sisters.

After the match, the sisters expressed their love and respect for each other in moving speeches to the crowd.

“Serena Williams … that’s my little sister, guys,” said Venus, who was up first, laughing. “Congratulations, Serena, on No. 23. I have been right there with you.

“Your win has always been my win. I think you know that I’m enormously proud of you. You mean the world to me.”

Serena returned the sentiment.

“I really would like to take this moment to congratulate Venus,” she said. “She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I’d be at 23 without her. There’s no way I’d be at one.”

Serena Williams won her seventh Australian Open title and 23rd Grand Slam by besting her sister Venus in Saturday'

Serena Williams won her seventh Australian Open title and 23rd Grand Slam by besting her sister Venus in Saturday’s final.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Venus Williams made her deepest run in a Slam draw since the 2009 Wimbledon final, when she also lost to Serena. But to compete in this crucible, Venus needed to serve fairly flawlessly. Her serve was broken four times Saturday.

When they posed for the obligatory prematch photos, Venus smiled and flashed her teeth; Serena smiled a coy, tight-lipped smile.

Serena Williams’ nerves emerged with those early double-faults and the cracked racket, but her break of Venus’ serve in the seventh game proved to be the difference.

There has never been a front-runner like Serena. She is now 21-0 after winning the first set in a major final. After the fourth game of the first set, the younger Williams didn’t face another break point in the 1-hour, 22-minute match.

In the second set, the seventh game again proved unlucky for Venus, who was broken to give Serena the decisive edge.

The matchup between 36-year-old Venus and 35-year-old Serena was the oldest for a women’s major final in the Open era, with a combined 71 years, 11 months. Williams also became the oldest Slam winner in the Open era at 35 years, 124 days.

Serena Williams now has a 17-11 career record against her sister, including a 10-5 advantage at Grand Slams and a 7-2 edge in Slam finals.

It was 19 years ago that they first met here in Melbourne, with Venus winning a second-round match. In 2003, they played their first Australian Open final, and a steely Serena escaped with a three-set win.

After Venus’ final errant shot, Serena fell back awkwardly and sat down. Venus came running to her side of the net and wrapped her long arms around her little sister. They held on for what seemed like a long, long time.

When Venus won a match this fortnight, Serena felt a sense of urgency to win her own. The match over, they chatted nonstop while posing with their respective trophies.

“She’s the only reason the Williams sisters exist,” Serena said, “inspiring me to be the best player I can be.”

This story is featured on ESPN.com

Liner Notes

ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.