Despite Australian Open loss, all is well in Venus Williams' world

Serena Williams gets a gift from Michael Jordan (1:13)

While on SportsCenter, Serena Williams receives two pairs of sneakers from Michael Jordan for winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. (1:13)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Serena Williams had barely begun her championship celebration when sister Venus strode to the other side of the net to embrace the Australian Open champion.

Behind every great champion, there is a driving force. For Serena, that's her older sibling.

"Serena Williams, that's my little sister, guys," the 36-year-old told the crowd after her 6-4, 6-4 defeat Saturday in Melbourne. "Congratulations, Serena, on No 23. I've been there with you, some of them I lost right there against you. But it's been an awesome thing. Your win has always been my win. I think you know that. All the times I couldn't be there, wouldn't be there, didn't get there, you were there. I'm enormously proud of you, you mean the world to me."

For many people, being constantly second best to your sibling would be tough to take. Venus has watched Serena usurp her at the top of the rankings and then power past her tally of seven Grand Slams, but there doesn't seem to be an ounce of jealousy.

The feeling is mutual. The pair has been inseparable from long before they began learning to play tennis with their father, Richard Williams, on the courts at Compton, California.

"She's an amazing person," Serena said of Venus. "There's no way I would be at 23 without her, no way I'd be at here without her, no way I'd have anything without her.

"She's my inspiration, she's the only reason I'm standing here today, the only reason the Williams sisters exit, so thank you Venus for inspiring me to be the best player I could be and inspire me to work hard. Every time you won this week, I felt like I had to win, too. Thank you."

To be in the final of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2009 was a remarkable effort from Venus, who at 36 has had to overcome a serious illness to get to this point. She continues to battle Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease diagnosed in 2011, which causes chronic fatigue and muscle soreness, but somehow Venus does it all with a smile.

After a barren few years, she broke back into the top 10 in 2016, reached the semifinals at Wimbledon last summer and leaves Melbourne as a gallant runner-up.

"I don't like the word comeback," Serena said. "She never left; she's such a great champion."

Venus will rise to No. 11 in the rankings, and with her confidence up, anything is possible.

"It's a great start to the year," Venus said. "I'm looking forward to the rest of the year. This is like tournament No. 2, and it's already a lot of work. I'm looking forward to tournament No. 3 and 4. It's going to be awesome."

Having been given a new lease on life, Venus shows no sign of wanting to slow down, enjoying every moment she gets on the big stage, while keeping an eye on Serena at the same time, like the good big sister she is.

"I guess I've been here before," Venus said. "I really enjoy seeing the name 'Williams' on the trophy. This is a beautiful thing.

"She's a champion. She's a champion on the court. She knows how to take it to that next level. Then off the court, obviously she's an amazing person, an awesome sister. I couldn't ask for much more."