Serena Williams, surrounded by Grand Slam tennis title record holder Margaret Court and mentor Billie Jean King, made a bit of her own history with her fifth Australian Open title.
The defending champion beat Justine Henin in three sets at Melbourne Park to gain her 12th major in all, tying fellow American Billie Jean King in sixth place on the career list headed by Court’s 24 championships.
“I feel really special that I was able to tie Billie Jean King,” Williams told reporters. “Because in my heart of hearts, I’ve been going for it and I haven’t been able to quite achieve it. Billie Jean is a really big mentor of mine.”
King and Evonne Goologong Cawley were among the former champions at Rod Laver Arena to mark the 40th anniversary of Court’s Australian Open victory, which was the first step of a Grand Slam sweep in 1970. Williams, who was presented the trophy by the 67-year-old Australian, is now one title ahead of Court, Goologong Cawley, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles for the most Australian Open titles since professionals were first allowed to enter in 1969.
After catching King, who came into the locker room to wish her luck before her 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over the unranked Henin, Williams’s next two targets on the Grand Slam title-leading list are Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 majors.
“I still think that when she plays her best, she’s the best ever,” King, 66, told reporters about Williams at Melbourne Park.
Williams, 28, defeated Henin in two hours, seven minutes in the first women’s Grand Slam final to go three sets since Henin, 27, lost to France’s Amelie Mauresmo at Wimbledon in 2006. She’s the first woman to repeat as Australian Open champion since Jennifer Capriati of the U.S. in 2002.
The successful defense of her title came after she fought back from 6-4, 4-0 down in her quarterfinal against No. 7 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. Williams, who improved her record at Melbourne Park to 51-6, also won the doubles titles two days ago with her sister, Venus.
“There must be something in the water,” Williams said. “I just love playing here.”
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