Serena Williams's victory over Maria Sharapova in Melbourne completes one of the great career comebacks in tennis on par with Andre Agassi's resurgence of the late 1990s and effortlessly fits among the more compelling narratives in the history of the sport. The 6-1, 6-2 hiding Williams inflicted in the Australian Open final is all the more remarkable since Sharapova regains her world number one position on Monday a fact that appears not a little dubious, in hindsight. "You can never underestimate her as an opponent, and I don't think many of you expected her to be in the final, but I definitely did," Sharapova said graciously of her opponent soon after being utterly outplayed. With her powerful all-court game, the American was always going to be a dangerous opponent for the Russian. Despite being unseeded in this tournament, Williams was no outsider; she had won the Australian Open twice and with seven Grand Slam titles already to her name was more giant than giant-killer. With the momentum of this fortnight's glorious run (which included wins over four top twenty players) behind her, Serena Williams was in fact equal favourite to win the trophy.
The 25-year-old American last won a tournament at the start of 2005, coincidentally the Australian Open. She has since grappled with knee injuries and personal problems, even briefly slipping out of the top 100 last season. These past couple of years she appeared to lose focus, dabbled in pursuits outside tennis a couple of guest appearances on TV shows and even her own fashion label, Aneres and played only sporadically. But suddenly her motivation to win matches returned, and it helped her pull off a couple of narrow wins. "I think I get the greatest satisfaction just of holding up the Grand Slam trophy and proving everyone wrong," Williams said after the final. "I just love that." What that says for the depth of women's tennis is a different matter. While gifted male players like Marat Safin and Juan Carlos Ferrero have struggled post-injury to break back into the top 20 the competition is just so intense few geniuses have emerged from the new generation of female players. Williams and another former world number one, Martina Hingis, have applied their experience to force their way back to the top after long breaks; but it is as much a reflection of the quality of the opposition as it is of their own ability that they have managed to progress so far, so quickly. Their return can only spell good news for women's tennis. Williams is scheduled to play in Bangalore next month; and Indian audiences will have the entirely unexpected pleasure of watching this fine player pretty close to her best.