Serena, 35, won 6-4 6-4 to pass Steffi Graf in the all-time list of major winners since the Grand Slams accepted professional players in 1968.
The American regains the number one ranking from German Angelique Kerber.
Australia's Margaret Court, with 24, is the only player still ahead of Serena in terms of Grand Slam singles titles.
"Congratulations Serena on number 23," said Venus, who at 36 is the oldest Australian Open finalist in the Open era.
"I have been right there with you, some of them I lost right there against you. It's been an awesome win.
"I'm enormously proud of you, you mean the world to me. I, God willing, would love to come back. Thank you for all the love."
Serena paid tribute to her sister, who was playing her first major final for eight years, saying: "There's no way I would be at 23 without her. There's no way I'd be at one without her. She's my inspiration.
"She's the only reason I'm standing here today. She's the only reason the Williams sisters exist. Thank you for inspiring me. Every time you won this week, I felt like I got a win too."
Favourite Serena too strong for Venus
Serena went into the match as a strong favourite, but the tension was apparent as early as the third game when she smashed a racquet in frustration, receiving a code violation.
She had broken serve in the first and third games only to hand the advantage straight back each time, three double faults inexplicably littering a desperate game for 2-2.
It was clear the six-time champion was struggling to settle, with 13 unforced errors in the opening five games, while elder sister Venus kept her under pressure with some deep hitting.
The decisive move of the set came with a superb drop volley followed by a thumping forehand winner from Serena to break for 4-3, and this time she managed to consolidate on serve.
In contrast to the opening stages, the following nine games went with serve - Venus recovering superbly from 0-40 early in the second set - but it was Serena who was creating the chances.
She finally capitalised on her sixth break point of the set with a brilliant return to lead 4-3 and followed it up with her best service game of the match for 5-3.
The crowd on Rod Laver Arena had been backing Venus from the beginning as she tried to win a first major title for eight years, and all the more so as defeat loomed and she appeared to struggle physically.
There was a huge cheer when she held serve to force her sister to serve out the match, but Serena recovered from 15-30 to earn match point and fell back on the court in celebration as her sister sent the ball floating wide.
'I enjoy seeing Williams on the trophy'
Saturday's final was the 28th instalment of the sisters' on-court rivarly, which began at the Australian Open back in 1998, with Serena now 17-11 ahead and 7-2 up in Grand Slam finals.
Venus, who turned professional in 1994 and has won five Wimbledon and two US Open titles, insisted she was not too disappointed after reaching her first major final since 2009.
"No, because I guess I've been here before, "she said. "I really enjoy seeing the name 'Williams' on the trophy. This is a beautiful thing."
Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent:
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Serena Williams is the length of time she has been winning Grand Slam titles. The first came on 11 September 1999 in New York; the 23rd on 28 January 2017 here in Melbourne.
The match itself will quickly be forgotten; but never the achievement. Richard Williams used to beg tennis clubs to part with their old balls when he started to put his daughters through their paces in the Los Angeles district of Compton, and now Serena has more Grand Slam singles titles than anyone who has ever played the game, with the exception of Margaret Court.
Williams is now just one behind the Australian - who was watching on the Rod Laver Arena - and in the view of the 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova, it is a record she could "shatter" before her playing days are done.
Billie Jean King on Twitter: Congrats @serenawilliams on your 23rd major title and return to the top of the @WTA rankings. You are a history maker and a trailblazer.
Martina Navratilova on Twitter: unbelievable - Serena does it again - what an amazing record!
Angelique Kerber on Twitter: Congrats to @serenawilliams for this amazing achievement!!! What a historic final- both are true champions @Venuseswilliams
Pat Cash on Twitter: Serena Williams continues to make history with her 23 GS. Just amazing! Further solidifies her place among the greatest sports people ever
|Serena won her 23rd Grand Slam title by defeating sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in Melbourne.|
(Photo: Dita Alangkara, AP)
After long pursuit, Serena Williams sets record with 23rd Grand Slam title
There was a great deal at stake for Serena Williams in the Australian Open final on Saturday night, far more than having to push aside her older sister.
For Serena, the 6-4, 6-4 win to hoist the Australian Open trophy for a seventh time establishes a brand new record. At 35, she is the only player – man or woman – to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era.
“It’s such a great feeling to have 23,” Williams said. “It really feels great. I’ve been chasing it for a really long time. It feels like, really long time. When it got on my radar, I knew I had an opportunity to get there, and I’m here.”
Now that Williams has Steffi Graf in her rear-view mirror – the two were tied at 22 Grand Slam titles since Wimbledon last year – she can look ahead to the next record to break.
Australian Margaret Court holds the overall record with 24 Grand Slam titles, an achievement which spans the pre-Open and Open Era. Court was in the crowd watching Serena inch closer to her claim to fame in the game on Saturday night.
Williams was also in position to return to the world No. 1 ranking if she won the title. But she had no idea that was in the offing as her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told her a fib by saying it wasn’t a possibility.
“She trusts me, because I never lie unless it’s for her own good,” said Mouratoglou, laughing. “She’ll forget. Give me a few weeks and she won’t think about anymore. But, actually, I think she’s happy I did it now.”
Williams admits she was clueless that she could take back the No. 1 ranking she relinquished to Angelique Kerber when she fell in the U.S. Open semifinals and Kerber went on to win the title.
“In the beginning of the tournament, I was like, ‘If I win, will I be No. 1?” Williams said. "(Mouratoglou) said 'No, no, no.' Today on the court ... I was like, ‘Whoa, really?'”
In Mouratoglou’s mind, a win here was essential for Williams to start the new season. After she lost in last year’s U.S. Open semifinals to Karolina Pliskova, she hung up her rackets for the rest of the year.
At Auckland, her first tournament this year, Williams was flat in her only match. She lost in three sets to fellow American Madison Brengle in the opening round and did so with a shocking 88 unforced errors. In their one previous match, Brengle only won one game.
“She needed to win this one,” Mouratoglou said of the Australian Open. “I feel that when you end the season with a loss, especially at a Grand Slam, you don’t have a good feeling. You have to fight back to get that confidence back. So that’s why this one was very important for the rest of the season.”
Williams was already the oldest women's champion at a major in the Open Era, a record she set by winning the 2016 Wimbledon title at 34 years and 287 days old.
At the outset of the match against Venus there were definite nerves on both sides with the first four games seeing service breaks. From there they both settled into the outing, but still returning better than serving.
In the end, it was Serena who secured the upper hand. She just had that little something extra – a bit more fight, a bit more confidence – to get the job done in 82 minutes.
For now, the sisters have played on 28 occasions and Serena's won 17 of those meetings. In Grand Slams, Serena leads Venus 10-5 in matches played, and 7-2 in Grand Slam final encounters played.
“Playing Venus, it’s stuff that legends are made of,” Serena said. “I couldn’t have written a better story. I just feel it was the right moment. Everything kind of happened. It hasn’t quite set in yet, but it’s really good.”
And on the topic of even more interest for some than her winning a 23rd Grand Slam title - there is another reveal to report regarding her fiancee, Reddit co-owner Alexis Ohanian.
While it’s true that she forgot to mention his presence in her box on the court, he did show up as part of her entourage in the interview room, and he couldn’t stop beaming and eyeing her sitting by the trophy. And on her finger, there was finally a sighting of a classic engagement ring - big, beautiful and bright.
Five thoughts on Serena Williams's historic win over Venus for 23rd Grand Slam title
MELBOURNE – Five quick thoughts on Serena Williams’s 6-4, 6-4 defeat of her sister Venus to win the 2017 Australian Open women’s singles title, her 23rd career major.
• Did you hear about Usain Bolt’s brother, Carl? He’s the world’s second fastest man. Catch wind of Lin Manuel Miranda’s brother, Winston? He’s the genius behind the second most successful show on Broadway. And not just for one race or for one season; but for a 20-year interval.
We jest, of course. But before even considering tonight’s match, just pause to reflect on the context, the sheer statistical unlikelihood, the extraordinary achievement of the women’s final. Two sisters who once shared a bunk bed, coming to dominate a global workforce for decades? Williams-Williams XXVIII coming 19 years after the first matchup? Who writes this stuff?
What makes for an exceptional story doesn't make for exceptional competition. Understandably so. Consider this from Venus’ standpoint: she stares across the net and sees her sister—age 35, having won “only” one of her last five majors—chasing history, only two short of the all-time record for Slams. And she needs to thwart her? And consider this from Serena’s standpoint: she stares across the net and sees her sister—age 36; having recovered from her autoimmune disease; in her first Slam final since 2009. And she needs to thwart her?
All this freight impacted tonight’s match. It was not a classic match. It was not maximum theater.
• The tennis lore. It’s the mid-1990s and Richard Williams is approached after the success of young Venus.
“Congratulations. You have the next Michael Jordan.”
“Wrong. I got the next two Michael Jordans. And the younger one is meaner.”
For all that Richard Williams got right—and there’s plenty—this may have been his ultimate bit of prescience. Serena has always had a dimension that’s escaped Venus (and every single other player.) “Meanness” doesn't quite get us there. But there is a mental impregnability that, hard as it is to quantify, might be her real virtue.
It was in full form tonight. It was Serena who broke a racket—code violation!—in the third game. It was Serena who served an ace on the last two points of the second set. It was Serena who pumped her fist. It was Serena who brought her furious ball-striking to bear when it mattered. Serena did not play her best tennis tonight. But she simply would not lose.
• The extended ovation for Venus Williams on Saturday night who could not be more well-deserved. She played rewind-the-clock tennis for six rounds. While she didn’t face the toughest opposition along the way, she beat the players put before her—which is all you can ask. At 36, she is still a remarkable athlete. She carried herself with a mixture of dignity and childlike joie de vivre here. On Saturday she simply ran into a better-serving, more determined player who happened to be her kid sister. Venus is back near the top ten. And she won the popular vote.
• Forgive the self-reference. At around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, I ran into Venus in downtown Melbourne. (After some chitchat, it was like seeing a bride before a wedding.) She was alone, wearing sunglasses, returning from a walk to clear her mind before one of the biggest matches of her career. Yesterday I talked to Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, and asked how he prepared his charge to play Venus. “Even though Serena knows Venus very well, she would like me to scout,” he said. “[Serena told me] ‘Please scout and talk to me before the match like you do all the time.’” So he watched video of Venus’ first six matches here and developed a game plan.
The point: yes, Venus and Serena are sisters. But in part because the stakes are so high, both sisters treat these inter-family affairs as business. Early in their careers, they practiced together before matches and shared coaches and even an apartment. Their sororal bond might be just as strong. But as athletes, in their 30s, they approach these matches seriously and as normally as possible. No moral victories. Both sisters have said that if they are going to lose, it might as well be to another Williams in the final. But this was no exhibition.
• “Grand Slam singles titles won” have become the coin of the realm in tennis, the benchmark by which we judge players. At some level, it’s silly. How do we account for tennis before the Open Era, when the best players didn’t enter the majors? And what do we make of the Australian Open, an event that everyone loves today but was considered optional until the late 1980s? (Martina Navratilova skipped it more years than she played it.) One beneficiary of this: Margaret Court, whose record 24 majors include 11 Australian Opens, many won in the era when it was glorified national event.
Nevertheless, Serena now has 23 majors, moving ahead of Steffi Graf and one behind Court. You could have made the case years ago, that Serena is the best ever. But now? Case closed. She gets bonus points for longevity—she’s now won majors spanning 18 years and six presidential terms.
But enough about the past. What about the present/future? She’s No.1 in the rankings. She hasn’t lost before the semifinals at a major in three years. If she’s not still in her prime, she ain’t far off. And, you suspect, she ain't done winning.