MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Serena Williams’ relaxed outlook on life spilled over even in defeat on Saturday when she appeared to be almost as happy that Angelique Kerber had won her first grand slam final as the German herself.
The 34-year-old Williams lost the Australian Open final to the seventh-ranked Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4 in just over two hours of scintillating tennis on Rod Laver Arena in which the German negated the American’s power and capitalised on unforced errors.
“I was actually really happy for her. She played so well today. She had an attitude that I think a lot of people can learn from, just to always stay positive and to never give up,” Williams told reporters.
“If I couldn’t win, I’m happy she did.”
Williams had been bidding for her seventh Australian Open title and 22nd overall, which would have moved her into a tie with Kerber’s childhood idol Steffi Graf for the record in the Open era.
Even though that record disappeared into the Melbourne evening, Williams beaming smile and graciousness in defeat drew warm applause from the crowd and praise from the sporting world.
“Fantastic gesture after match point and such kind words — a great champion, @serenawilliams!,” Manchester United and Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said on Twitter.
The response after defeat was a far cry from the player who was once booed by fans at the 2009 U.S. Open after a heated exchange with a line umpire for which she given a suspended ban and ordered to pay half of a $175,000 fine.
Williams has previously said that a cut foot and blood clot on her lung that almost cost her career, and life, five years ago had helped her reassess, while in the last 12 months she has also recognised she is in the twilight of her career.
She was under immense pressure last year when she had the opportunity to become the first player since Graf in 1988 to claim a calendar grand slam, only to have the dream ended by Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semi-finals.
Williams took the rest of the season off to rest niggling injuries and deal with the disappointment of missing the grand slam achievement.
That loss, however, also appears to have helped her deal with expectations and she no longer puts that pressure upon herself.
“Every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life. As much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not,” she said.
“I do the best that I can. I try to win every single time I step out there, every single point, but realistically I can’t do it.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)