Kerber stuns Serena to protect idol Graf's record

Sat Jan 30, 2016 9:23am EST
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - On a night when Steffi Graf loomed large over Rod Laver Arena, an inspired Angelique Kerber stunned Serena Williams in a three-set classic to win the Australian Open on Saturday and become Germany's first grand slam champion in 17 years.

In the ultimate tribute to her childhood hero, Kerber foiled Williams's bid to match the German great's tally of grand slam titles, closing out a magnificent 6-4 3-6 6-4 win in her first major final.

The seventh seed's triumph secured her nation's first grand slam win since Graf raised her 22nd and final trophy at the 1999 French Open.

"Yeah, I think I helped Steffi right now," a beaming Kerber told reporters.

"This is the first big tournament of the year, and I won it, the first grand slam. It sounds crazy, but I can say I'm a grand slam champion now."

Kerber sought inspiration from Graf during a trip to the 46-year-old's Las Vegas home last year and put in a performance worthy of her mentor.

She defended brilliantly throughout the two-hour and eight-minute cliff-hanger, showing nerves of steel to fend off Williams who had roared back from 5-2 down in the deciding set.

In a final game riven with tension, Williams succumbed on the first match point with a volley that floated well past the baseline.   Continued...

Germany's Angelique Kerber celebrates after winning her final match against Serena Williams of the U.S. at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu