Even at 34 years old, Williams is playing as well as ever with four major championships in the last five tries. The next one will tie her with Steffi Graf for the most wins in the Open era, solidifying her standing in the history of the sport.
On the other side of the court will be Kerber, who has played well her entire career but had never reached a Grand Slam final until now. Despite the inexperience at this level, she has obvious talent and could make this an intriguing battle worth watching.
Australian Open Women's Final
When: Saturday, Jan. 30
Time: 3:30 a.m. ET (7:30 p.m. local)
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Australia
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Kerber might not be as accomplished as her opponent in this matchup, but she has certainly performed well recently. After a tough battle in the first round, the German has gone on an impressive run with five straight-set victories in a row, including a relatively dominant performance over Victoria Azarenka.
Matt Zemek of The Comeback discussed the enjoyment watching Kerber break through with her semifinal win:
Matt Zemek @mzemek
It's one of the best moments in sports: when an athlete, after years of struggle in the salt mines, reaches a long-sought milestone. #Kerber1/28/2016, 5:41:21 AM
The key to Kerber's success on the court has been maximizing opportunities and reducing errors. Over the last two matches, she has 45 winners and just 27 unforced errors to go with just a pair of double-faults in each contest. Meanwhile, she has done well with her serve on both the first and second tries, winning at least 50 percent of second serves in all six wins in Melbourne.
Of course, the biggest difference isn't measurable in stats. Kerber explained her difference in mindset at this tournament compared to others of this size:
#Kerber "I'm trying to stay relaxed, stay normal like I am. Treat it like smaller tournaments. It works" #AusOpen https://t.co/kAKGw7a6vb1/29/2016, 2:17:39 AM
Considering she hadn't even reached the semifinal of a Grand Slam since 2012, the change is clearly working. Now she just has to keep calm against the best player in the world.
The problem is that winning will be a serious challenge regardless of what is going on in Kerber's mind. Williams has just been playing at a different level than anyone else as of late, losing just a single match in her last five Grand Slam tournaments.
To make things tougher, the American seemingly steps up her game against tougher competition, defeating Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska in the last two matches while losing just nine total games. ESPN's Chris McKendry explained just how good Williams has been:
Chris McKendry @ChrisMcKendry
With her win today, @serenawilliams has a 17 match win streak vs. top 5 players at Grand Slam events. Outrageous!1/28/2016, 6:23:06 AM
Although Kerber is just outside the WTA Top Five at No. 6 in the world, you can bet she will receive the same focus from the world No. 1.
The most amazing thing is that Williams is just getting better, even after one of the best seasons in the history of the sport. She explained her confidence after the latest win, per the Press Association (via the Guardian):
I would say this is probably the best slam I’ve played in a year, and I’ve won a lot in a year. I know my practices are better. Hopefully I’m playing better. So I definitely can play more consistent and more mentally stable, so to say. I haven’t won this one. But even if I don’t win, I really can take away that I’ve been really consistent, and I want to continue that.
This is certain to create a serious challenge for anyone who faces her. Williams has yet to drop a set at the Australian Open and is as good with her serve as ever, winning 88 percent of first-serve points in the semifinals with eight aces.
Fans watching along will either see continued greatness and a record-tying performance from an elite player or one of the bigger upsets you will see all season. Either way,it will be a fun battle to watch.
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