Top-seeded Serena Williams was an overwhelming favorite to win her seventh Australian Open and 22nd career Grand Slam title after rolling into the final without dropping a set, but she was shocked by Grand Slam final debutant Angelique Kerber Saturday in a three-set affair.
Serena battled back to force a decisive third set after dropping the opener, but the seventh-seeded German was simply too strong, resulting in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 triumph for the 28-year-old underdog.
Williams' loss was extremely unexpected considering her dominance in Grand Slam finals over the years, but the defeat proves she isn't invincible, contrary to what the overarching narrative has been in women's tennis in recent years.
On the heels of a shocking Aussie Open women's final for the ages, here is a rundown of how the match played out, as well as a look ahead toward the men's final between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Andy Murray.
Women's Final Result
|2016 Australian Open Women's Final Score|
|Round||Winning Player||Losing Player||Score|
|Final||(7) Angelique Kerber||(1) Serena Williams||6-4, 3-6, 6-4|
Men's Final Prediction
|2016 Australian Open Men's Final Prediction|
|Round||Predicted Winner||Predicted Loser||Predicted Score|
|Final||(1) Novak Djokovic||(2) Andy Murray||6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3|
Serena Williams vs. Angelique Kerber
After spending the better part of a decade attempting to give herself a chance to vie for a Grand Slam title, Kerber didn't let the opportunity slip away Saturday despite facing perhaps the greatest player in the history of women's tennis.
The chips were stacked against Kerber entering the match due largely to Serena's recent record in big matches, as evidenced by this tweet courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Serena Williams' loss snaps a streak of 8 straight Grand Slam final wins and 15 straight final wins overall.1/30/2016, 11:17:17 AM
Kerber was able to put pressure on the favorite early on by taking the first set, but as Williams proved last year, she often plays best when her back is against the wall:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Serena Williams was 8-0 in 2015 at Grand Slams after dropping the 1st set. #AusOpen1/30/2016, 11:24:39 AM
That appeared to be the case once again when Serena won the second set, but Kerber did what few have been able to over the years by putting the second set behind her and regrouping to defeat the world's No. 1 player in a winner-takes-all set.
It was an understandably emotional win for Kerber considering everything she has gone through in her career to reach a final, and that showed through during her post-match speech, courtesy of the Australian Open on Twitter:
Angelique #Kerber defeats Serena #Williams in her first Grand Slam Final #AusOpen https://t.co/A6ggO60Vvs1/30/2016, 11:08:33 AM
Serena is often viewed as a stone-faced competitor who doesn't handle losing well, but that simply wasn't the case Saturday.
In fact, the American was as gracious as she could possibly be in congratulating Kerber on her remarkable accomplishment:
Thanks for a wonderful match Serena. See you next year! #AusOpen https://t.co/rUwLE8LZ3E1/30/2016, 11:19:14 AM
That attitude largely carried over into Williams' post-match press conference, as she was effusive in her praise of the woman who prevented her from winning Grand Slam No. 22.
Serena also looked at the big picture and made it clear that no matter how good she is or how successful she has been, the possibility of a loss is always present when facing the top players in the world, per AusOpen.com:
I mean, it's interesting. I mean, every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life. As much as I would like to be a robot, I'm not. I try to.
But, you know, I do the best that I can. I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can't do it. Maybe someone else can, but I wasn't able to do it.
There is no question that Williams was nowhere near her best Saturday as Kerber outdid her in perhaps the best area of her game, that being serving.
Kerber got a higher percentage of her first serves in and won a higher percentage of both her first- and second-serve points.
According to tennis legend Martina Navratilova, the tough-as-nails German played at her highest possible level to pull off the upset:
Martina Navratilova @Martina
I said before the match Kerber would have to play the match of her life to win- she did. Wow- congrats!And Serena- what a gracious champion!1/30/2016, 11:13:46 AM
At the same time, Serena didn't perform up to the level most are accustomed to seeing, as she committed 46 unforced errors, while Kerber made just 13.
That kind of mistake-free tennis was a winning formula, and it drew the praise of Djokovic, who will look to add another trophy to his mantle Sunday:
Novak Djokovic @DjokerNole
What a final girls @serenawilliams & @AngeliqueKerber Great sportsmanship! Well done to both. Congrats to Angelique for her 1st GS #AusOpen1/30/2016, 11:41:59 AM
Although Saturday certainly wasn't Serena's day, the fact she steamrolled her way to the final suggests she will have multiple opportunities to win Grand Slam titles in 2016.
The fact that she has now gone two straight Grand Slams without winning a title is bound to create questions about whether she's starting to slip, but Williams has bounced back from far worse runs over the course of her career.
As for Kerber, the win establishes her as one of the unquestioned top players in women's tennis, and the challenge is now to maintain that level of play moving forward.
One can only assume that beating Serena gave her a ton of confidence, and if she can continue to channel it, then she may be a thorn in Williams' side all year long.
Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray
Djokovic and Murray will clash for the 31st time in their illustrious careers Sunday in the Australian Open final, and while Djoker has a significant 21-9 edge, Murray has won some big matches against the Serb over the years.
That includes triumphs in the 2012 U.S. Open final and 2013 Wimbledon final, but things haven't gone particularly well for the Scot in matches against the world No. 1 since then.
According to Sky Sports News, Nole is an impressive 10-1 against Murray during that time frame, including a win in last year's Aussie Open final:
Sky Sports News HQ @SkySportsNewsHQ
Since Murray won the 2013 Wimbledon Final, the pair have met 11 times with Djokovic winning 10 of those #SSNHQ https://t.co/cAxtiVy7NY1/29/2016, 12:52:20 PM
Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Australian Open final has been an extremely difficult hurdle for Murray to clear, as he enters his fifth appearance without a title to his credit:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Andy Murray is 0-4 in the Australian Open final, with each of the last 3 losses coming against Novak Djokovic.1/30/2016, 2:15:07 PM
Despite Murray's lack of success against Djokovic over the past two years, he seemingly has a great deal of confidence entering Sunday's match.
According to ATPWorldTour.com, he believes the four-set match he played against Djoker in last year's Australian Open was a positive step in terms of beating him this time around:
Last year here is a good match for me to look at because the tennis, in my opinion, wasn't miles apart. It was a very close match for three sets. The most important thing for me is to sustain my level for long enough, not just for one set here or there, a few games here or there. I need to do it for a very long period if I want to get the win. That's my challenge on Sunday.
I have a very good shot on Sunday if I play my best tennis. I don't think many people are expecting me to win on Sunday. I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it and play well. There's no reason it's not possible for me to win.
Even though the rivalry between Djokovic and Murray has been all Nole over their past 11 meetings, Djoker has little doubt that he will be challenged and pushed to the brink by the five-time Australian Open finalist:
Djokovic: "I expect lots of rallies, a physically demanding match. Our games are alike, who will outplay who from the baseline?"1/30/2016, 6:03:21 AM
Djokovic is a 10-time Grand Slam champion, though, with half of those victories occurring in Melbourne, which should give him a huge psychological edge.
Both players have been on the verge of elimination in this tournament, as Djokovic went to five sets with Gilles Simon in the fourth round, while Murray went the distance against Milos Raonic in the semis.
Djoker seems to be in better form at the moment after thrashing Kei Nishikori in the quarters and beating Roger Federer fairly easily in four sets in the semifinals.
Until Murray proves that he can once again beat Djokovic on the big stage like he did at Wimbledon in 2013, it is difficult to pick against Nole.
He won three Grand Slam titles last year, and he has a chance to win his fifth in seven tries with a victory over Murray.
Murray isn't likely to fold, but look for Djokovic to pull a repeat from the 2015 Australian Open final by beating Murray in four sets.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.
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