Serena Williams,was utterly unaware that a victory on Saturday night would put her back at No. 1. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, did all he could to keep her in the dark.
But there was no hiding the other statistical stakes as Williams walked back into Rod Laver Arena, headphones around her neck and game-face in place, to play her older sister Venus Williams in the Australian Open final.
The tennis circuit can be an echo chamber where the same questions and themes reverberate from week to week as the locations change but the protagonists do not.
So even though Serena Williams refused to entertain questions during the tournament about the possibility of winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title and breaking her tie for the Open-era record with Steffi Graf, there was no dodging that number in her own head.
Now, after a 6-4, 6-4 victory over her sister, she can celebrate No. 23 instead of fret over it.
“I’ve been chasing it for a really long time,” Williams said. “When it got on my radar, I knew I had an opportunity to get there, and I’m here. It’s a great feeling. No better place to do it than Melbourne.”