There is little doubt that Serena Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player of all time. Her first Grand Slam victory came in 1999, and she is the dominant figure in the sport almost 20 years later.
She has seen off a myriad of rivals over the years. In the early days, she got the better of Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis while sister Venus – still a force at 38 – has been a constant adversary. Then came Justine Henin, perhaps her fiercest foe, and Maria Sharapova whose 2-19 record suggests their ‘rivalry’ isn’t as competitive as it’s been made out to be.
And therein lies the issue. Serena has had no serious long-term challengers for the last 10 years. If you take out the second half of 2010 (which she missed after stepping on broken glass in Munich) and the following year (spent largely recovering from her first pulmonary embolism) she has been the best player in the world by some distance. If she’s on her game, she wins.
Her total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, and counting, is a record for the Open era and at Wimbledon this week. She is now the clear bookies’ favourite despite coming into the tournament on the back of just seven competitive singles matches since giving birth to her first child last September.
After completing her second ‘Serena Slam’ at Wimbledon in 2015, she missed out on the calendar Grand Slam when she was stunned by Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-finals. Then she went down to Angelique Kerber in the final of the 2016 Australian Open before losing out to Garbine Muguruza in the final at Roland Garros.
In the French, Williams had defied injuries to make progress and her semi-final win over Kiki Bertens was a battle of the walking wounded. But normal service was pretty much resumed on the London grass.
Serena dropped just one set, in a surprisingly close match with fellow American Christian McHale, on her way to the final where she would meet Kerber in a rematch of their shootout in Melbourne.
The German had gone out to Bertens in the first round at Roland Garros and her defence of her Birmingham Classic title ended at the hands of Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarter-finals. But she found her stride at SW19, not dropping a set on the way to her first Wimbledon final.
While Serena had brushed aside Elena Vesnina in the semis, Kerber had dealt admirably with five-time champion Venus Williams. A thrilling final was in prospect but for Kerber to win, she needed Serena to be below her best.
It was a great match with Kerber playing every bit as well as she did in the Australian Open. She threw everything she had at Serena but the world number one was just too good.
Serena was out of the blocks quickly and brought up break point in Kerber’s first service game. But the left-hander saved it and saved two more to level at 1-1. Kerber’s second serve has always been her Achilles heel but it stood up well on Centre Court with Serena unable to threaten for most of the first set.
Meanwhile, the American was giving up next to nothing on her delivery. In the opening set, she won 88 percent of points on her first serve including eight aces. And when Kerber created half a chance, taking her to deuce twice late in the set, Serena had the answers.
Kerber finally cracked when serving at 5-6. Serena put the pressure on with a crunching forehand to open the game, and she soon had two set points. Kerber saved the first, but she could not quite get to a big crosscourt backhand and the first set had gone.
The second set followed a similar pattern with Kerber showing incredible scrambling and power from the back of the court to stay with the champ. And she played the shot of the match in the fourth game – a miraculous backhand over the highest part of the net – which had even Serena applauding.
But like all the great champions, Serena raised her game just when she needed to. She faced her first break point at 3-3 and saved it with an ace before securing the hold.
Then after a quite ludicrous rally at the net, which Kerber won, Serena reeled off four points in a row from 40-15 down to leave her serving for her seventh Wimbledon singles crown.
There was not even a hint of nerves. Three big serves brought up three championship points, and then she moved in behind another, putting away her second volley to draw level with Steffi Graf on 22 Grand Slam singles titles.
Her victory in last year’s Australian Open took her to 23, and it’s very possible Kerber could stand between her and number 24 on Saturday afternoon. If they were to meet, Kerber – who also claimed the US Open title in 2016 – could fancy her chances with Serena still a little short of full physical fitness.
On the men’s side, Andy Murray dispatched Milos Raonic in straight sets to clinch his second Wimbledon title. Like Kerber, 2016 was Murray’s defining year and the draw opened up for him when Novak Djokovic was dumped out by Sam Querrey in the third before Raonic beat Roger Federer in the semis.
While Canadian Raonic had proved by then he was more than just a serve, the very best players on their day always seem to find a way to beat him and this final was no exception. Murray handled his booming delivery with ease, including the second fastest serve in Wimbledon history, to claim his third Slam.
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Also published on Medium.