A delighted Serena Williams paid tribute to her family and her humble beginnings after making history with her 19th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday.
The American world number one, who grew up in the gritty Los Angeles neighbourhood of Compton, said it felt amazing to win her 19th Slam with a hard-fought 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) victory over Russia’s Maria Sharapova.
“Growing up I wasn’t the richest but I had a rich family in spirit and support and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen,” the 33-year-old said.
“I went on the courts with just a ball and a racquet and hope and that’s all I had.”
Williams, who is now three majors behind Steffi Graf’s all-time Open-era Grand Slam winners’ record of 22, said her desire to win was as strong as ever.
“I think I get more joy now, there were times in the match where I just smiled because I’m so happy to be out there competing,” added the newly-crowned, six-time Australian champion, who has overcome serious illness during her career.
She said Graf’s tally was definitely on her radar but it still seemed a long way off.
“I would love to get to 22,” she said. “I mean 19 was very difficult to get to. Took me 33 years to get here, so I would love to get there.
“But I have to get to 20 first, and then I have to get to 21. There’s so many wonderful young players coming up, so it will be a very big task.
“My next goal was just to get to 19. That was my goal. So I didn’t think it would happen this fast, to be honest, but it feels really good.”
– Sleeping it off –
Williams said she struggled at times against Sharapova after battling a cold for much of the tournament, particularly during a rain break in the first set.
“I had a really bad cough and I ended up throwing up,” she said. “I was able to clear my chest out because I couldn’t breath a little bit.”
She also revealed she had the jitters trying to close out the match in the second set after Sharapova held off two match points.
“I get more nervous now and I can’t work out why,” she said. “In that tie-break I missed some shots, I was embarrassed, I was like ‘Serena serve it out, serve it out’.”
Asked how she would celebrate a win that takes her Grand Slam tally past legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, both on 18, she said she planned to “take a deep breath and lay down”.
“I’m going to go to bed, I’m going to curl up under some covers and I’m going to go to sleep, I’m not feeling the best,” she said.
“I just had a really bad cold and a really bad cough (during the tournament).
“Usually when that happens you stay in bed for a week, you don’t play matches every other day and practice every day, so I haven’t been able to get better.” – Agence France-Presse