Steely Serena promises more Majors
LONDON — Serena Williams could identify precisely the moment when she was ready to win a seventh Wimbledon. It was just before the tournament, in the wake of a scalding defeat to Garbiñe Muguruza in Paris, that she decided in an instant to cast all stress and melodrama aside.
“I woke up one day and I just felt different,” she said. “I felt a relief.
“I made my mind up that I was not going to worry about anyone or anything – about what people said or didn’t say – that I was just going to worry about tennis.”
She sent a message to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, telling him of the overnight transformation. He replied, crisply enough: “The real Serena is back.”
We had better believe it, on the evidence of a grand slam display as dominant and steely as any that Williams has yet produced. Angelique Kerber deserved all the plaudits for her role in the finest Wimbledon ladies’ final for a decade, but on the one break point that she carved out, she did not even have a hit, so powerless was the German against that rocket-launcher of a Serena serve.
Williams understood the significance of this 7-5, 6-3 victory keenly, flexing two fingers on each hand to represent her emulation of Steffi Graf’s 22 major titles. She exchanged a prolonged embrace with Mouratoglou in the corridors of Centre Court afterwards, in recognition of a pact that they had made at Wimbledon four years earlier, when she had been low on confidence and had asked him to help steer her to one more slam.
Brushing off such talk, the Frenchman refused to countenance such a modest ambition, claiming that she was capable of winning another 10.
Staggeringly, Williams is nine-tenths of the way to fulfilling her side of the bargain. At the US Open in September, she stands poised to seize a 10th championship since turning 30, two more than Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl or Andre Agassi managed in their entire careers. The only figure ahead of her in the historical reckoning is Margaret Court, the Australian whose playing days straddled both the amateur and Open eras, and who observed Serena’s latest milestone on Saturday from the royal box.
Eventually, or perhaps as soon as next summer’s Wimbledon, even Court, with 24 majors overall, could be left in Williams’s contrails. The most pressing question is how long Williams, who had pursued this coronation with a ravenous appetite piqued by losses in her last two slam finals, intends to continue. One brake on her longevity could be the retirement of sister Venus, who turns 37 next year. Together they won a 14th major doubles trophy here, but one of sport’s most enduring double acts is nearing its final chapter.
“It would be hard,” she said, when asked if she dared to think about carrying on without her elder sibling. “She has been my backbone on this journey, which we have been on for such a long time. I just hope that she won’t be retiring any time soon.”
Wreathed in smiles, she could scarcely have appeared more content, and yet Serena remains prone to an insomnia that hints at her extremes of perfectionism. “My sleepless nights usually come after the tournament,” she said. “I meditate, going over things, seeing where I can improve. I’m thinking, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ I’m always somebody who is looking to improve, no matter what.”
There was a moment last year when one sensed that her famous resolve might be weakening. She has recalled how, in the aftermath of a shattering defeat by Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-finals that denied her a first calendar grand slam in tennis since 1988, she hid under her bed covers for days, lamenting the missed opportunity. Only the prospect of her show at New York Fashion Week succeeded in snapping her out of her despair.
The manner of her fightback in reaching every major final since then is a testament to her indestructible edge. “I have always known I was a big fighter, that I would never give up,” she reflected. “But I have really put it on display lately. I have not let anything get me down.”
It is a tenacity that promises to take her to heights once thought out of reach in this sport. She writes her own rules with every fresh record she sets.
Serena Williams plays a powerful forehand during the Ladies Singles Final against angelique Kerber of Germany last Saturday.