It was always going to take something special to beat Serena Williams, and Angelique Kerber delivered.

The German needed a little bit of help – she got it in the first set – but her display was exceptional.

Eventually, after some nerves, Kerber closed out a 6-4 3-6 6-4 victory in two hours eight minutes for her maiden grand slam title.

That she finished with 25 winners and 13 unforced errors told part of the story on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.

Kerber, who had lost five of six previous meetings against the dominant world number one, did a lot right.

She said in the lead-up she had nothing to lose, and – for the most part – played like it.

Unlike her opponent, who also tried to talk down the pressure.

Williams has, however, felt it in the past, and it appeared to be more of the same on the back of 23 first-set unforced errors.

Kerber had started by hitting too short, only to settle into a rhythm and start pushing Williams back to the baseline and beyond.

The 28-year-old fought and fought, scurrying across the back of the court for every ball. And it paid off with some remarkable passing winners.

It also forced Williams into mistakes.

The 21-time grand slam champion had been a formidable figure at the net all tournament – winning 83 per cent of points after coming forward leading into the final.

Kerber's desperation and excellent striking saw Williams win just 15 of 32 points at the net in the decider.

Yet, even as Williams faltered early in the match, Kerber rarely looked the more likely winner.

When she went 2-0 up in the third, there was a glimmer of hope, but even then, closing was always likely to be a huge challenge.

The grueling sixth game in the third set proved decisive, showcasing much of what Kerber produced.

She was the beneficiary of some good fortune – a net cord seeing Williams hit on the arm – and some errors from her opponent.

And the were moments of sheer class, underlined by a pair of gutsy, brilliant drop shots, including one to save game point after she had pushed Williams well back behind the baseline.

Williams played the big points with courage and it largely paid off, but a risky approach on the final one did not.

Kerber had come armed with a special display, and only that was ever going to be good enough.