WIMBLEDON – There is no way of knowing if Serena Williams’s path to the Wimbledon women’s singles final might have been interrupted along the way, had so many of the top players in the women’s game not been shocked out of the tournament so early this year.
But the way she has been playing, who’s to say she might not be standing in the exact same spot?
Williams didn’t have to face Elina Svitolina, or Madison Keys, or Coco Vandeweghe, or Caroline Wozniacki. The high seeds and big servers that looked to be obstacles when the draw was revealed two weeks ago, fell by the wayside before they got to her.
But in defeating No. 13 seed Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-4 on a day when the much-improved German shows few signs of succumbing to first-time Slam semifinalist nerves, the 36-year-old mom made a statement.
She’s here to win it, in only her fourth tournament back after pregnancy, childbirth and a host of complications in the aftermath.
And it feels like every day, with every match, she’s getting fitter and better.
Favorite or underdog? Serena can’t decide
Williams is the favorite to win the tournament. And some had her as the favorite even before it began. The lady herself is allowing herself to be impressed with what she’s accomplished so far.
“It’s like, ‘C’mon guys, this is pretty awesome’. To hear people say, ‘Oh, she’s a favorite. Like, the last 16 months, I’ve played four tournaments, and was carrying another human half that time. It’s interesting,” she said. “But when I wasn’t a favorite, I was kind of upset about that. It’s like, ‘C’mon, what can make me happy?’ Have to figure out which I prefer.”
There was a different look about Williams when she headed out to Court 9 to warmup for her match, around 11:30 a.m.
It all looked fairly typical. Williams had on a skirt, as she usually does during a pre-match warmup to better simulate what she wears during matches. She didn’t take any volleys, which is typical.
She was silent – as was everyone on her team – save for a few instructions to hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins.
But Williams barely missed. She hit the ball much harder than she often does, and the sound coming off the racket would have intimidated any opponent, had she been nearby to hear it.
That’s what she took to the match court. And despite a hiccup when she served for the match – with new balls, no less – she was nearly flawless.
Pulled out her very best – again
“I don’t know what I expected from this tournament. I just expected to win a match, then win the next match. Whenever I go out there, I just try to win my match. That’s literally all I do,” Williams said.
“I don’t know what my toughest match was. I mean, obviously against Camila (Giorgi), she played really, really well. She pushed me and won the first set against me. But today was tough, as well. Like, I think every match has its challenges. I don’t think any of them have been easy. Each one I have to kind of adjust to.”
Goerges said she was proud that Williams had to pull out her best to beat her.
“Overall I think she knew how to win that match by her experience, and I didn’t have that stage in my career yet. I’m looking forward to getting there another time and getting more experience,” she said. “But overall I’m not frustrated about the way I hit. I think that she steps up her game. Yeah, it’s a big word, which is ‘respect’ towards me that she brings her “A” game in a lot of important moments.”
Kerber stands in the way of No. 8
Of all the possible opponents who managed to scratch their way into the second week, perhaps Angelique Kerber is the most prepared, on form and experience, to take Williams on.
Kerber easily dismissed first-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko in the first semifinal.
The 6-3, 6-3 score probably makes it seem closer than it was; Kerber was a willing and able accomplice in Ostapenko’s mission to defeat herself with errors.
It was just the right tactic, although not that many players have the tools to execute it.
Still, it was a great tournament for Ostapenko, as it was for Goerges.
The last time Williams played Wimbledon, in 2016, she also faced Kerber. The American won it, but it was a tight, competitive final.
Williams was all the more motivated because the two had squared off in the Australian Open final less than six months before.
And in that one, it was Kerber who won in three sets to earn her first career Grand Slam title.
Attacking that second serve
What we remember most about that Australian Open final was how Williams was looking in the warmup to practice attacking what was, then, Kerber’s biggest weakness: her second serve.
Then-hitting partner Robbye Poole tried with all his might. But he couldn’t duplicate the feebleness of Kerber’s second delivery.
And, in the end, that was a big key to Kerber’s victory. Williams just wasn’t able to give that second serve the pummelling it deserved. And that allowed Kerber to hold serve a bit more easily than she should have.
Ironically, Kerber’s second serve is a lot better, 2 1/2 years later. So is the rest of her game. But even if she has become a much better attacker, she will still need to rely on her defense if she wants to defeat Williams on Saturday.
“She’s always going out there to win the matches. I think it doesn’t matter against who she is playing. She’s trying to (play) like she played the years before where she won the big matches. Now for sure she had a lot of big confidence, especially after the matches she won here already,” Kerber said of Williams.
“She knows the feeling to (go) out on this stage where you are in the finals, especially here. She won here I don’t know how many times. … Yeah, she’s a fighter. She’s a champion. That’s why she is there where she is now.”