In itself, Serena Williams winning the Australian Open 2017 title by beating sister Venus was a momentous occasion for the sport.
She rewrote the history books, as she often does, to surpass Steffi Graf and capture a record 23rd Grand Slam title
The dominant American swept past Venus 6-4, 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena for her seventh Melbourne Park crown to clinch the record for Open-era major titles, nearly 18 years after winning her first at the 1999 US Open.
The 35-year-old, who equalled Graf’s mark of 22 at Wimbledon in 2016, stood just one behind the all-time 24 won by Margaret Court, who was in the president’s box to witness her feat that night in Melbourne.
But what transpired after she won the Australian Open that year elevated Serena’s greatness a notch, if such a thing was even possible. Serena romped to her seventh Australian Open title without losing a set when she was pregnant.
According to Vanity Fair, only five people knew about the pregnancy during the tournament among who were husband Alexis Ohanian, sister Venus Williams, and the doctor who had examined her. Neither Serena’s coach nor the tournament officials had any idea.
She had announced the news to the world on Instagram (inadvertently, as it were) after her title Down Under but immediately insisted through her spokesperson that she very much intended to be back on circuit in 2018, a promise that she kept.
Serena overcame a scratchy and nervous start in which all four opening games were breaks and when she smashed a racquet in frustration.
But she soon settled to get a decisive break to go 4-3 in front with an unstoppable backhand, and served out the set with an ace.
Serena was fired up and after the first two games of the second set went to serve, she worked three break points in the third only for her sister to negotiate her way out of trouble with some big forehand winners.
The tense battle went with serve to 3-3 before Serena cranked up the pressure to break with a scintillating crosscourt backhand and take a 4-3 lead.
With history beckoning, she wasn’t about to throw it away and she served out the match.
Later that year, in an interview, Serena revealed how she was nervous when she found out about her pregnancy two days before the tournament began.
“You hear all these stories about people when they’re pregnant — they get sick, they get really tired, really stressed out. … I had to really take all that energy and put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away,” Serena said during a TED Talk interview.
“I really felt that I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions, any extra anything, because, pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament as I am every tournament that I show up [for]. If I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”
The occasion was made so much more special by the words Serena had for Venus. “I would really like to take this moment to congratulate Venus, she is an amazing person,” she said.
“There is no way I would be at 23 without her. There is no way I would be at one without her. She is my inspiration, she is the only reason I am standing here today and the only reason that the Williams sisters exist.”
(With AFP inputs)