MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) After more than a decade of losses to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova is getting good at being gracious in defeat.
The Australian Open final Saturday demonstrated just how far the gap is between No. 1 and No. 2 following Sharapova's 16th loss in a row to Williams - 6-3, 7-6 (5) at Rod Laver Arena.
Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova said Williams' serves were so fast, it was hard to even make contact with the ball. Hence the American's 18 aces - one of them at 203 kph (126 mph).
''I've got to congratulate Serena on creating history, on playing some of her best tennis,'' Sharapova said at the trophy ceremony, where she held back tears before stepping up to the microphone.
''I haven't beaten her in a really long time. But I love every time I step on court against her, because she's been the best. And as a tennis player you want to play against the best.''
It was Williams' 19th Grand Slam title, moving her ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and three behind Steffi Graf's Open-era leading total of 22.
Sharapova has now lost every match against Williams since the WTA finals in 2004 - she's won only two of 19 matches.
''I've had some of the best memories of my career on this court and also some of the toughest losses, but that's the life of a tennis player,'' said Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008 but has lost two finals and three semifinals - including one of each to Williams.
Sharapova was gracious to Williams both at the trophy ceremony and in her post-match news conference. She didn't dwell on how much the loss hurt or how badly she wanted to end the losing streak but focused on how much she loves competition and competing against the best.
''If I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well,'' Sharapova said. ''I'm happy to be in that position. I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment she is.''
Williams has been the best for quite some time. Her latest stint at No. 1 has lasted for 101 consecutive weeks.
Unlike the men's side, where four players have dominated for a decade - Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray - the women's side has one recurring champion and others occasionally making inroads.
''It's frustrating to be the one going home with the small trophy. But I do love the battle. I love high-quality tennis. I love being part of it. It's a lot better than watching it on TV,'' said Sharapova. ''I'm proud to be part of an era where she's in.''