‘You can never count her out’

10 months re­moved from giv­ing birth, Wil­liams set to play in Wim­ble­don fi­nal

The Beacon Herald - - SPORTS - SCOTT STIN­SON

Serena Wil­liams won the Aus­tralian Open last year while in the early stages of preg­nancy. She will play for the Wim­ble­don ti­tle on Satur­day af­ter giv­ing birth just 10 months ago. If she man­ages to beat An­gelique Ker­ber for her 24th Grand Slam sin­gles vic­tory, it is hard to imag­ine what she could do for her next act.

Win a Slam while preg­gers with twins? Win one while hold­ing a baby in her arms? That lat­ter op­tion would make the two­hand back­hand tricky, but I feel like Serena could give it a go. If she could train the baby to toss the ball in the air for her serves, she at least goes a cou­ple of rounds deep.

You have to imag­ine fan­ci­ful sce­nar­ios that Wil­liams would find hard to over­come be­cause, at this point, she is long past be­ing hob­bled by any of the nor­mal sce­nar­ios. There is Serena, and then there are the rest of us hu­mans.

When she won that 23rd Slam in Mel­bourne last year, break­ing the record for ma­jor sin­gles ti­tles in the Open era that she held with St­effi Graf, there was a sense of ur­gency about it, at least to her. The pub­lic didn’t know she was preg­nant — she wouldn’t an­nounce it un­til later that spring — but she was aware that the Aussie fi­nal might have been her last chance to sur­pass Graf’s to­tal.

It turns out that she needn’t have wor­ried. Even though her daugh­ter, Alexis, was de­liv­ered in Septem­ber, which re­quired mul­ti­ple surg­eries in­clud­ing one for blood clots in her lungs, and even though she is play­ing in only her fourth tour­na­ment since be­com­ing a mother, Wil­liams, at 36 years old, rou­tinely dis­patched Ger­many’s Ju­lia Gorges on Thurs­day in Lon­don, 6-2, 6-4, to reach the fi­nal. “It’s crazy,” she told the BBC af­ter­ward. “I don’t even know how to feel.”

She is right about the crazy part. But that’s also what we have come to ex­pect from Serena, who has an en­tire sec­ond half of her ca­reer that ut­terly de­fies logic. She won her first Slam as a 17-year-old at the U.S. Open in 1999, not long af­ter Graf won her last Slam at the French Open that same year. For that first ti­tle Serena had to beat Martina Hingis, who was a lit­tle over a year older than she was but had al­ready won five Slams. Hingis would never win an­other ma­jor sin­gles ti­tle, which isn’t all that un­usual in a sport of­ten dom­i­nated by young­sters who rise quickly and then fade al­most as fast.

Serena, though, won a pile of ti­tles in her teens and early 20s, as one does, then ap­peared ready to have the nor­mal de­scent into medi­ocrity, and then later in her ca­reer be­came dom­i­nant again. Along the way she has seen off the en­tire ca­reers of world-class play­ers.

Jus­tine Henin won her first Slam in 2003 and her sev­enth and fi­nal one in 2007. She has since re­tired, made a come­back, re­tired again, opened two ten­nis academies, had two kids, and starred in two re­al­ity shows on Bel­gian tele­vi­sion. Serena has just kept pil­ing up vic­to­ries. She won five Slams be­fore Henin won her first and has won 15 of them since Henin won her last.

The only other woman to win as many as seven Slams in the Serena era is her sis­ter Venus, who won her last at Wim­ble­don a decade ago. Serena has also won 15 of them since Venus’s last.

Be­fore this Wim­ble­don be­gan, the ESPN an­a­lyst Chrissie Evert, who won 18 ma­jor ti­tles her­self, said she was sur­prised that moth­er­hood hadn’t “taken the edge away a lit­tle bit” for Serena “be­cause I know when I had my first child, I just didn’t want to do any­thing else in life.”

But she didn’t mean that as a crit­i­cism. “This is Serena, and she does the unimag­in­able, the un­pre­dictable,” Evert said. “You can never count her out.”

Still, though, you should be able to count her out when she’s com­ing back from child­birth, when she’s played only a hand­ful of matches in 16 months, and when she’s not that far re­moved from what she de­scribed on Thurs­day as be­ing un­able to walk to her mail­box.

Ap­par­ently you can­not. Serena Wil­liams, all these years later, is in­evitable.

The fi­nal on Satur­day, with the Duchesses of Cam­bridge and Sus­sex (Kate and Meghan for you laypeo­ple) watch­ing from the Royal Box, could yet be the mo­ment when Wil­liams is proven to be mor­tal.

The in­cred­i­ble story un­fold­ing in Lon­don is rem­i­nis­cent of 2015, when Serena bat­tled through three straight Slam wins and was in the semis against an un­seeded Roberta Vinci at the U.S. Open that Septem­ber. The cal­endaryear Serena slam looked like a lock. Vinci had even booked a flight home for the day af­ter their match, and then Vinci won.

Ker­ber, a fi­nal­ist at Wim­ble­don just two years ago, and a two-time Slam win­ner, should be a much tougher test. It is sim­ply nuts to imag­ine Wil­liams beat­ing some­one of Ker­ber’s tal­ent in a Grand Slam fi­nal so soon af­ter she be­came the world’s bad­dest ten­nis mom. It is nuts that she is even there to have the chance.

But then, you re­mem­ber, she is Serena. We prob­a­bly should have seen this com­ing. sstin­son@post­media.com

MATTHEW STOCKMAN/GETTY IMAGES

Serena Wil­liams cel­e­brates her 6-2, 6-4 win over Ju­lia Goerges Thurs­day in their Wim­ble­don semi­fi­nal match.

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