Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Sharapova proves no match for Serena

FAIRYTALE RETURNWrieen off by many critics befoer the tournament had even started, the unseeded American neede just 63 minutes to thrash the Russian world No.1

AFP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Serena Williams of the US celebrates her women's singles final win over Maria Sharapova of Russia at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday. Williams won in straighht sets 6-1, 6-2.

PHOTO: AP

An emotional Serena Williams swatted aside top seed and world No. 1 Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in the Australian Open final yesterday to win her eighth Grand Slam and prove the critics wrong.

Sharapova had no answer to Williams' booming serve and blistering returns as the American completed a fairytale return from injury with a third Australian title to join her 2003 and 2005 trophies.

Coming into the final unseeded, the 25-year-old made a mockery of her world ranking of 81 to humiliate Sharapova and become the first unseeded player since 1978 to claim the Australian title.

Williams dedicated the win to her sister Yetunde, who was shot in Los Angeles' notorious Compton district in 2003.

"Most of all I would like to dedicate this win to my sister who's not here any more, Yetunde, I just love her so much," she said, her voice breaking as she fought back tears. I'll try not to be teary-eyed but a couple of days ago I said if I win this it's going to be for her -- so thanks 'Tunde."

Williams, whose win will propel her to No. 14 in the rankings, also hit back at the critics who wrote her off before the tournament,

"It was an awesome win because I had so many critics, so many people talking bad and saying negative things and saying I wasn't fit when I felt that I was really fit and could last three sets and two-and-a-half or three hours no worries," she said. "I actually did that throughout the tournament, so you tell me no and I'll show you that I can do it."

Sharapova, 19, said she had always viewed Williams as a threat, regardless of her ranking, saying "you can never underestimate her,"

"I know what she's capable of and she showed it today, she's an amazing champion, she's showed it here many times," said Sharapova, "She came out today and she really played flawless tennis."

Williams said she felt the signs were good when she saw the roof of the Rod Laver Arena was closed because of drizzle, as it had been for her previous victories in Melbourne.

Serving first, she signaled her intentions when she fired down an ace to take the opening game, showing none of the lapses in concentration that forced her to fight back from a set down twice in the tournament.

She drew first blood with a break in the second game when the serving woes that have dogged Sharapova's campaign continued and she double faulted twice.

Williams punished Sharapova's tentative serve with sizzling returns and she stunned the Russian with another break to go up 4-0 after just 14 minutes.

The shell-shocked Russian finally managed to defend her serve for 5-1 but accidentally hit a ball directly at her opponent, only firing up Williams further.

She served out the set after 26 minutes and Sharapova's woes continued when she double faulted to open the second.

The American continued to dominate, breaking in the first game then holding her own serve with an ace.

Any doubts about her fitness were dispelled as she leapt around the court, charging to the net to bludgeon the ball past Sharapova.

It was 10 games and 43 minutes into the match before Sharapova served an ace and less than 50 percent of her first serves were successful.

She clung on to defend her serve twice in the second set but could do little against the Williams onslaught, muttering "too good" to herself after another rocket-powered return from her opponent whizzed past.

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