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AO Flashback: Williams double act lights up 2017 final

  • Ravi Ubha

When it comes to tennis celebrations, Venus Williams' delight after winning her 2017 Australian Open semifinal is difficult to top.

Indeed, anyone who witnessed it won't soon forget it.

Williams released her racquet and placed both hands on court at Rod Laver Arena before gliding to the net to shake hands with her fellow American, CoCo Vandeweghe.

An extended pirouette followed. She placed her hands at the side of her head and tilted it back, letting out a roar, as the sequence continued. Clenched fists featured as Williams, now seated, angled her head back again to take in the moment.

Pure, unharnessed joy.

Venus Williams

At the age of 36, Williams hadn't only become the oldest women's finalist in the Open Era at the Australian Open: she ended a seven-and-a-half-year Grand Slam final drought and reached her first Australian Open final since 2003.

Such is the Williams sisters longevity, both are still playing, although didn't make the trip to Melbourne this year.

That wasn't the lone reason the 2017 women's draw resonated, however. Not by a longshot.

Williams just happened to face younger sister Serena in the finale – a Serena who we learned later won the Championship while eight weeks pregnant with daughter Olympia.

"I think after Venus won the semifinal, the buzz was, 'Oh my God, this is so exciting'," her coach at the time, David Witt, told "Not only is she in the final, but she was playing Serena, which I'm sure was a very tough thing every time they played. Serena's the GOAT."

Venus dropped one set on the way, the first set against Vandeweghe, who has since been impacted severely by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and a hand injury.

Serena's own path to the final was unblemished, even as her draw produced some apparent obstacles.

She began by meeting Belinda Bencic, her ouster at the Canadian Open in 2015 as part of a run that saw the Swiss overcome four top 10 players and two other Wimbledon finalists.

A wrist injury took a toll on Bencic's ranking a season after being the No.12 seed at Melbourne Park, though. Serena won 6-4 6-3 to earn a clash with Lucie Safarova. 

Safarova extended Serena to a third set in the French Open final in 2015 – even leading 2-0 in the decider – during a fortnight in which the long-time Florida resident dealt with illness.

Reactive arthritis subsequently derailed the free-swinging lefty – who held a match point on eventual champion Li Na at Australian Open 2014 – as she played the best tennis of her career.

Yet her quality and battling abilities – saving nine match points in the first round against Yanina Wickmayer proved to be another unforgettable moment – were well known.

Serena ensured there was little drama, dropping seven games again, prior to overcoming Barbora Strycova's tricky game in the fourth round and power baseliner Johanna Konta in the quarterfinals.

The Brit had made her Grand Slam breakthrough by landing in the semifinals in Melbourne in 2016 and her buildup to the 2017 Australian Open came with a title in her birthplace of Sydney.

The surprise package of No. 79 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni awaited in the last four.

A former child prodigy, Lucic-Baroni played sparingly for several years, not contesting a Grand Slam from 2003-2009 after meeting Steffi Graf in the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999.

"This is what I've been dreaming about, this is what I've been training for," Lucic-Baroni told reporters. "At 34 years old, I have a wonderful home. I'm happily married. I would be perfectly okay being at home enjoying my family.

"But I really knew deep down in my soul that I have these results in me. To now be here and actually live these moments, it's incredible."

Serena, who was 35, ended Lucic-Baroni's run 19 years after they met as teens at Wimbledon. But before departing Rod Laver Arena, the Croatian took a selfie.

Serena'a surprise semifinal opponent: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

The stage was thus set for the first all-Williams Grand Slam final since 2009 at Wimbledon.

That appeared unlikely after Venus withdrew from her second-round match in Auckland – due to face a 19-year-old Naomi Osaka – with an elbow injury.

"We went into Australia with the mindset that we didn't know if she would be able to finish her match or play," her hitting partner at the time, Jermaine Jenkins, told "I just blinked and she was in the final."

A three-set quarterfinal classic won by Serena punctuated the US Open in 2015, but the final in Australia was slightly more straightforward.

Serena – after hitting three double faults in the fourth game – broke at 3-3 in the first and at the same juncture of the second. One last push saw Venus hit 15-30 on her sibling's serve at 4-5 – after a 24-shot rally – before committing a pair of unforced errors.

Serena's 23rd Grand Slam title inched her past Graf for the Open Era record and remains her last Grand Slam trophy.

"It's such a great feeling to have 23," Serena told reporters a year after losing the final to Angelique Kerber. "I've been chasing it for a really long time."

Serena the champ – all while eight weeks pregnant...

The women's final preceded the improbable men's decider between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The odds of those two singles finals happening pre-tournament according to one bookmaker drifted to 5000/1, likely mindful of Federer and Nadal returning from injury and Venus' lack of recent Grand Slam finals.

"It just felt so surreal to be in that moment and capture that whole experience," said Jenkins, whose brother Jarmere would become Serena's hitting partner late in 2017. "I just couldn't believe what was happening in front of my eyes."