Angelique Kerber has conjured one of the great Australian Open final upsets to deny Serena Williams an Open-era record-equalling 22nd major title, thus protecting - for now - the legacy of the last German woman to win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Steffi Graf.
In her first grand slam decider, Kerber upset the champion who had won her past eight, playing the match of her life to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Kerber blinked momentarily when serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set, but then broke Williams in the following game and fell to the court in triumph after two hours, eight minutes.
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Angelique Kerber shocked Serena Williams to claim her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
So emphatic had Williams' passage to her seventh Melbourne Park final been that she had started a prohibitive favourite to extend her perfect record. But it was a surprisingly imperfect performance from the six-time titleholder, who served poorly and hit 46 unforced errors, never looked settled, and seemed comfortable only during a gracious loser's speech.
Kerber's goal for the season had been to improve her poor record at the majors, and she had faced a match point in her opening round. But she showcased a vastly-improved game and mental strength on her big night out, never losing the faith that she was capable, or the will to find a way.
She is the lowest -ranked winner at Melbourne Park since No.81 Williams herself back in 2007. At 28, the new world No.2 is also the seventh-oldest first-time grand slam winner behind the most recent, Flavia Pennetta, at the US Open last year.
"When I played here first round, was a match point down, so was with one leg in plane to Germany," Kerber said at the presentation. "Now I'm here, I think I get second chance and I take my chance to be here in finals to play against Serena. Real honour to be in the final, to win it is my dream come true tonight on this night."
It was bitterly disappointing for Williams, who had stuttered slightly when first chasing the 18th major title she needed to equal Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and has faltered again in the past two slams as she pursues her next big Open-era target: Graf on 22.
The crowd was with the outsider, but history with Williams, who had won her previous eight grand slam finals, which are among eight of the past 12 played. Few have dominated the sport like the great American, but on Saturday night she proved mortal, and Kerber seized her chance. The German was dogged, and persistent, but also better than that. Two fine drop shots to break serve for 4-2 in the third set were examples of her range..
Williams started out looking sluggishly leaden-footed, and agitated, as she was worked around the court by Kerber's calm power and angles, and the need to play one extra ball, time and again. The German is fit, and strong, and was not overawed by the occasion of her first grand slam final, against an opponent who had won 21 of her first 25.
There were errors from Williams, mountains of them, 23 to three in the first set alone, when her average over the first six rounds had been just 16. She appeared flummoxed and despairing at what was going wrong; disowning one wild forehand altogether as she beseeched coach Patrick Mouratoglou for answers only Kerber seemed to have.
Stunningly, she was even being outserved by Kerber, who had hit three aces before - in her eighth service game - the greatest in in the sport had registered her first. The top seed won just five of her first 14 second serve points, and as enticing as the 125kmh second ball from Kerber appeared - "Apfelstrudel on a plate", as one observer tweeted, amusingly - it was Williams who was making a meal of things.
Yet Kerber's challenge was to maintain her level, and it dropped away a little in the middle of the second set. A poor service game that including two double faults saw her fall behind 3-1, as a slightly more energetic Williams trimmed her error count significantly and raised her level on serve, if still some distance from her best.
Williams had soon fallen behind again, trailing 0-2 in the third set, as she was in the French Open final against Lucie Safarova when she recovered to win the last six games. This time, her immediate break back was accompanied with a scream of intent. She was not going anywhere - not yet - but her net game was wobbly, and a little overdone, as Kerber kept her composure and hurt her opponent with a succession of passing shots on the run.
"I was enjoying this time so much, the best two weeks of my life, my career," she said. "They really are the best fans in the world, thanks for the support, I had goosebumps on centre court tonight."