A sensational Angelique Kerber has secured her first Grand Slam trophy to deny Serena Williams a record-equalling 22nd title in a scintillating women's final at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
The German seventh seed produced a level of tennis few would have predicted on her way to a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory in a battle which spanned over two hours.
Williams had never played a German in a major final, but it was a woman of such descent whose record she was chasing – Steffi Graf, the winner of 22 Grand Slams in the Open Era.
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With 21 titles in her previous 25 major finals prior to Saturday, the American's record prior to Saturday was something to behold.
Her first Grand Slam trophy came as a 17-year-old at the 1999 US Open, beating then world number one Martina Hingis to become the first African-American major winner in the Open Era.
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Despite the 34-years-old’s wealth of experience on the big stage, it was she who stumbled out of the blocks in the year’s first major final.
Kerber, who staved off match points in her first round match against Japanese world number 64 Misaki Doi, broke in the third game to snatch the early momentum.
The German had only reached the last four of a Grand Slam twice in her career so far, and yet she settled far quicker than her heavily favoured opponent, finding herself 3-1 up in the opening stages.
The 28-year-old then surrendered a break, allowing Williams to draw level only to succumb once again and restore Kerber's advantage.
Williams, whose only loss to Kerber came in the quarter-finals of Cincinnati in 2012, previously held a 5-1 stranglehold over their head-to-head record, but no such dominance could be seen in Melbourne.
Message fro Steffi Graf
Upon her Grand Slam final debut, Kerber received an encouraging text message from Graf prior to stepping on-court.
The gesture seemingly had an effect on her compatriot as she showed extreme nerve to hold to love when forced to serve out the opening set.
Williams, without a single ace in the opener, struggled to find a way into the tie despite her wealth of big-match nous.
No fewer than 46 unforced errors came from Williams’ racket over the course of the match, a figure only narrowly edged out by her 47 winners.
As many expected of her, the American showed signs of blasting her way back into the match with 16 winners during the second set.
The tide appeared to be turning when Kerber conceded two double faults and a backhand error to find herself down triple break point, the third of which her relentless opponent eventually claimed.
Despite untidy footwork letting her down, Williams rallied from 0-30 to consolidate the break and take a commanding 4-1 lead.
A composed volley made it 5-2, perhaps a slightly lopsided scoreline considering the American wasn't dominating proceedings by any means.
Kerber then held from 0-30 but was helpless in her attempt to stop Williams tie the match at one set apiece.
The German produced some inspired tennis to set up three break points as she resisted the Williams attack three times in one rally. The 21-time Slam winner had an opportunity to finish the point with a smash, but her unconvincing attempt allowed her opponent to strike an emphatic passing shot.
Kerber pressed on to take a 2-0 lead in the decider having claimed eight out of the opening nine points.
The Slam final debutant led the ace count 4-3 at one stage, consistently beating Williams out wide despite her shrewd ability to predict when Kerber would go down the tee.
However, the German's accurate serving wasn't enough in the third game as Williams broke straight back before letting out a triumphant "c'mon" that echoed around Rod Laver Arena.
Williams was having difficulty covering her lines when drawn to the net and allowed Kerber to nudge ahead in the fourth game with a sublime forehand winner.
Williams dug deep again and produced three winners of her own to regain control and level the tie at 2-2.
As the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup gleamed under the floodlights, Williams struggled to level once again. A 19-shot rally and an ace saw her stave off a couple of break points, but the 34-year-old eventually surrendered her serve after was passed at the net once more to give Kerber a third opportunity, and one which she took.
A gutsy Kerber then held to love, forcing Williams to serve to stay in the match at 2-5 after one hour and 53 minutes of rollercoaster tennis.
Tasked with serving for the championship, nerves got the better of Kerber as she could only come within two points at the first time of asking.
Back on serve and desperate to claw her way back into contention, Williams couldn't hold off an inspired Kerber any longer as break and championship point went the way of the underdog to confirm the unlikeliest of upsets.
A defeated and humble Williams walked straight to the other side of the court to offer Kerber a congratulating embrace before being seen with a beaming smile as her opponent accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
Williams had nothing but praise for her opponent in her post-match speech.
"Angie, congratulations. You really deserved it - let me be the first to congratulate you," she said.
"I hope you enjoy this moment."
It was announced that Kerber would rise to world number two following her victory and she took the opportunity to breathe a massive sigh of relief before addressing the Rod Laver crowd.
"First of all, I would like to say congratulations to Serena," the German said.
"You're really an inspiration for so many people and young tennis players. You've created history. You're a champion. You're also an unbelievably great person. So congratulations to everything you've already done."
Kerber also spoke about how she came within a single lost point of being knocked out in the first round of the tournament against Japan's Misaki Doi.
"When I was match point down, I actually had one leg in the plane back to Germany. I got a second chance, and I took that chance to be here in the finals to play against Serena. I'm really honored to be in this final and to win it - my dream came true tonight," she added.
"My whole life I was working really hard, and now I'm here, and I can say I'm a Grand Slam champion, and it sounds really crazy.
“These have been the best two weeks of my life."
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