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Friday, January 26, 2007
Updated: January 27, 5:09 PM ET
Williams wallops Sharapova for eighth Grand Slam

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams answered her critics with an overpowering victory in the Australian Open final.

Serena Williams
Williams poses with the trophy after winning her women's final match against Maria Sharapova.

Unseeded and ranked 81st, Williams won for her eighth and most improbable Grand Slam title Saturday, beating Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2.

"It was an awesome win, because I had so many critics. So many people ... saying negative things," Williams said. "Saying I wasn't fit, when I felt that I was really fit, and I could last three sets.

"It's always like, tell me no and I'll show you that I can do it. I get the greatest satisfaction just holding up the Grand Slam trophy and proving everyone wrong."

Only the second unseeded woman to win the Australian title in the Open era, Williams came to Melbourne Park with only three matches at a low-key warmup tournament after missing most of last season because of a knee injury.

She will jump to No. 14 in the world next week after capturing her first title in 15 tournaments since her second Australian Open victory in 2005.

Despite doubts about her fitness, Williams thought she was in great shape.

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"I have been working really hard and haven't felt like my results have been showing," she said. "And finally it just all came together, especially in the final match."

The victory was the most dominating win in a completed championship match at Melbourne Park since Steffi Graf beat Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-0, 6-2 in 1994.

"This definitely goes down as one of my good matches. I'm insatiable," Williams said. "I think I could have done better. That's just my character."

She finished off the top-seeded Sharapova with a backhand winner, then threw her racket in the air and dropped onto her back on the court.

The 25-year-old American, also the 2003 champion, got up and skipped over to the side of the court, swapping high-fives with mother Oracene Price and other people in the stands before jogging back onto court with her arms up in triumph.

Williams dedicated the title to her half-sister, Yetunde Price, who was killed in a 2003 shooting.

"Most of all I would like to dedicate this win to my sister, who's not here. Her name is Yetunde. I just love her so much," she said, her voice cracking. "I'll try not to get teary-eyed but I said a couple of days ago, if I win this it's going to be for her. So thanks Tunde."

Grand Slam winners
Serena Williams entered the Australian Open final ranked No. 81 in the world. Here are the lowest-ranked women's Grand Slam winners since the computer rankings system began in November 1975:
Player Tournament Ranking
Evonne Goolagong 1977 Australian NR
Chris O'Neil 1978 Australian 111
Serena Williams 2007 Australian 81
Barbara Jordan 1979 Australian 68
Sue Barker 1976 French 18
Virginia Ruzici 1978 French 17
Venus Williams 2005 Wimbledon 16
Maria Sharapova 2004 Wimbledon 15
Jennifer Capriati 2001 Australian 14
Justine Henin-Hardenne 2005 French 12
-- The Associated Press

Chris O'Neill, who was ranked No. 111 when she won the 1978 title, was the only other unseeded woman to win the Australian Open.

Sharapova had no answers for Williams' power in her worst loss in a Grand Slam event.

"You can never underestimate her as a performer. ... I know what she's capable of and she showed that today," said Sharapova, who will assume the No. 1 ranking from Justine Henin. "She has showed it many, many times.

Williams saved match points in her semifinal win over Sharapova here two years ago before beating Lindsay Davenport in the final.

She started aggressively and never relented in the kind of form that helped her dominate women's tennis as she completed the "Serena Slam" with four consecutive majors up to the 2003 Australian Open.

She held to open and then won 12 straight points after Sharapova had a game point in the next to jump to a 4-0 lead. Williams saved a break point in the fifth game before Sharapova held at love to make it 5-1.

Williams served out, taking the first set in 26 minutes on her second set point when Sharapova sent a backhand service return wide.

The American broke Sharapova's serve and resolve again to open the second set, then had consecutive double-faults to give the 19-year-old Russian a break point chance in the next game. In a manner typical of her determined performance Saturday, Williams fired an ace to save the break point and held on back-to-back errors by Sharapova.

Williams led 4-0 before Sharapova held again, avoiding the most lopsided women's final ever in the Australian Open.

Serving for the match, Williams fired two aces to earn triple match point, then finished it off in 1 hour, 3 minutes with the backhand winner.

With occasional showers and a strong wind outside, the roof was closed on packed Rod Laver Arena.

Williams missed nine tournaments immediately after losing in the third round at the Australian Open last year and played only 16 matches in 2006, when she slumped as low as No. 140 in the rankings.

Her win over No. 5 Nadia Petrova in the third round this time was her first over a top-10 player since she won the 2005 tournament.

Sharapova came into the match on a 13-match winning streak in Grand Slams, having won the U.S. Open in September. After winning her first-round match in three sets, Sharapova didn't drop a set in five rounds before the final.

In the men's final Sunday, top-ranked Roger Federer will face Grand Slam final newcomer Fernando Gonzalez in a bid for his 10th major title.

Gonzalez overpowered Tommy Haas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals Friday, a night after Federer beat No. 6 Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.

"He's the No. 1 player in the world by far. ... I lost many times with him," Gonzalez said. "But now I'm playing much better than the last time we played. And it's only one match. I'm going to give everything that I have to try to win my first Slam."

Gonzalez is 0-9 against Federer, who has won nine of his 10 major finals.

Federer's victory over Roddick put him into a seventh consecutive Grand Slam final, tying a record set in 1934 by Jack Crawford.