2. Lost in the paeans about Serena’s serve and mental fortitude: She played great defense. In the 16-shot rally I mentioned, Williams fended off aggressive hitting from Sharapova long enough to bring her toward net for a volley she couldn’t handle. And at 3-3 in the second set, a pivotal juncture of this final, it was Serena’s offense that let her down on a deuce point after two admirable defensive stabs.
Two points about this: First, Serena does everything well, not just what she's best known for. During Roger Federer’s prime, I often said that his defense was the most underrated part of his game. It led to so many points he eventually won—often with a flourish of offense that became the memorable takeway. I wouldn’t say Serena plays better defense than Federer, but she moves deceptively well and keeps more points hanging in the balance than you’d think. Don’t forget about her returning abilities, either.
Second, Serena’s defensive stands were a result of some great offense from Sharapova. The 2008 Australian Open champion played the kind of assertive tennis needed to challenge Serena, even if it wasn't enough. But what we did see was eye-catching: She fired forehands when openings presented themselves, guessed on her returns in order to try and take early control of points (to mixed results), and served commendably. Sharapova won 67 percent of her first-serve points, which would be much more notable if Serena didn’t win 84 percent of hers (including 18 aces).
3. On her third championship point—and first on her serve—Serena appeared to hit an ace to claim her sixth Australian Open and 19th Grand Slam singles title. She dropped her racquet in celebration, and began to walk forward. Cheers cascaded from sections of Rod Laver Arena.
“Let, first serve.”
It was called by the machine, and this turn of events would challenge even the great Serena Williams.
So what did she do? She hit another ace on the very next ball.
It was a sequence of physical and mental strength that continues to define Williams, and is the reason that Steffi Graf’s mark of 22 Grand Slam title remains a viable target. After losing before the quarterfinals in the first three majors of 2014, Serena has won the last two. Bucking a trend of thirty-something tennis players, she seems more motivated than ever, and treats every point as if it’s a championship point. Maybe that’s why, when the chair umpire said “Game, set match”, Serena didn’t have a joyous, celebratory moment right after (she also wondered if it was, again, a let). It was just like any other point she played—but at the same time, so much more.