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Williams wallops Sharapova for eighth Grand Slam

1/27/2007 - Tennis

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

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.

"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."

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.