MELBOURNE – Three thoughts following Angelique Kerber’s stunning upset of Serena Williams, 6–4, 3–6, 6–4 in the 2016 Australian Open women’s final.
• We were going to offer an extended tip of the visor and Herzliche Glückwünschen to Angelique Kerber for reaching the final. But that’s nothing compared to what she deserves tonight. Her courageous play earned her the biggest win of her career. She played far more like the veteran she is, than the first-time Slam finalist, deploying an ideal game plan, putting pressure on Serena, recovering from a shaky set and pulling off a tremendous win. Before dissecting Serena and her disappointing performance, stay with Kerber and give her the credit she deserves.
So often fans have wished for more competitive finals, for opponents to look across the net at Serena and say, “You’re going to have play well, you’re going to get pressured, and you're going to have to beat me.” That’s precisely what Kerber did. She asked questions. She absorbed the pace. The answers from Serena’s side were slow in coming. And Kerber has a shiny trophy—and new career-high No. 2 ranking—to show for it. She becomes the first German since Steffi Graf to win a major.
• Serena Williams’s place in history is secure and if she never played again she would still go down as our greatest female player of all-time. Let’s say that up front. But this makes two straight majors with profoundly disappointing results. She lost no sets here before the finals, and for rounds 2–6, she was almost unplayable. Then tonight—against a first-time finalist—it was Serena who played nervous, flustered tennis. As was the case in the U.S. Open semis, she moved sluggishly, served shakily and missed scads of shots, especially forehands. By the end, she was left with an emboldened opponent. And she was left searching for a level that she could never attain.
• At the previous major, we had perhaps the greatest upset in the history of women’s tennis. Tonight’s match didn’t rise to the level, but, well….wow. Serena was clearly affected again by the weight of the occasion and was scarcely recognizable from the player that cruised to get to this stage. She leveled the match at a set and we figured Kerber had her moment and this match was going to regress to the mean, as it were. Then Kerber played a terrific third and simply seized the match.
Kerber beat Serena and, in the process, provided a blueprint for deposing the Queen. Get enough balls back to frustrate Serena. Hope her groundstrokes—her forehand, in particular—lose their compass. Use your angles. (And if you’re left-handed, so much the better.) Deal with her pace. All the credit to Kerber who not only wins her first major, but beats the best to do it. But Where does Serena go from here? suddenly becomes a compelling question.