Serena a favorite going forward

MELBOURNE, Australia -- You can never assume anything with the Williams sisters. You can never count them out; Venus and Serena Williams have always had major surprises and Serena's 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final might rank as the biggest one of them all.

In terms of a dominating performance in a major final, obviously there have been more one-sided finals. But against Sharapova, a player who had never lost a set in a Grand Slam final (4-0), it's hard not to feel like she was going to go out and win or play a great match.

Nobody would have picked 6-1, 6-2 and the way in which it was done. Serena was almost perfect. She had two double faults serving for 2-0 in the second set, but that was her only nervous stretch, and maybe one or two forehands near the end. Other than that, Sharapova had to play perfect just to win a point.

Serena had so few unforced errors (11) and that's just not what she usually does. She usually litters the court with unforced errors and winners. But she has never been able to control her power game, hit so many winners (28) like she did today. And to do it in a Grand Slam final makes it all the more memorable.

I thought Serena's first-round win over No. 27 Mara Santangelo (6-2, 6-1) sent a signal. If you are a great athlete, you can play your way into better shape. Most players can't afford to do that; in fact, no one else would dare use a major to play themselves into shape.

There was a point in her fourth-round match against No. 11 seed Jelena Jankovic when there was a long rally and both players were all over the court. Serena won the point and neither one of them was ready to play for a minute after that -- which is obviously a long time in tennis terms. Serena lost maybe one more point the rest of the match. It occured to me then that perhaps her fitness level and ability to recover were better than they looked.

She has a big frame and she's never going to be a slight athlete. She has a different build from Venus, but she can still get in better shape just for her body's sake. That's the concern for me is when you carry weight on the tennis court, there's an incredible amount of stress and strain on certain joints and you owe it to your body to pound it as little as possible.

I think Serena has missed this and still has a lot to prove. No matter how much she has enjoyed the entertainment world, there's nothing she can do anywhere else that satisfies her like this. She's in her mid-20s (25), and as long as she maintains good health and remains injury-free, this makes her a favorite for, at least, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Justine Henin-Hardenne will be the favorite to win the French Open.

Serena proved she's the best total package out there: she has mental strength, physical strength, speed and serve. She reminded us today that she is still the best.

And over the last three days, I've never seen three players -- Roger Federer, Fernando Gonzalez and now Serena -- do what they've done to quality opponents.

It was an amazing performance by Serena.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002.