Ev­ery­thing is Grand for Wil­liams at Wim­ble­don

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - SALLY JENK­INS

lon­don— Ser­ena Wil­liams was in such a com­pet­i­tive trance it made her slow to claim vic­tory, but then she was only three­quar­ters fin­ished with this task she has set for her­self, this still un­sat­is­fied busi­ness of to­tal, all­time, world dom­i­na­tion. For a mo­ment, she was un­sure whether she had ac­tu­ally won the Wim­ble­don ti­tle on Satur­day. Then she shot her hands up­ward to a roar of ac­cla­ma­tion from the Cen­tre Court crowd.

Wil­liams— and the au­di­ence — needed to be sure that Gar­bine Mugu­ruza, the fierce 21-year-old Spa­niard across the net, was re­ally beaten. She was, 6-4, 6-4. “I was so fo­cused, I was like, ‘Is that it?’ ” Wil­liams said.

It was only af­ter the cer­e­mo­nial plate was in her hands and she thrust it in the air that the re­al­iza­tion fully set in: She is now within reach of a rare Grand Slam, a sweep of ten­nis’s four ma­jor cham­pi­onships in the same cal­en­dar year. She has al­ready won the 2015 Aus­tralian Open and French Open, and with

her Wim­ble­don vic­tory, only the U.S. Open re­mains for her to be all-con­quer­ing.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s re­ally, re­ally, huge, but I haven’t done it yet.”

With 21 ma­jor cham­pi­onships over­all, Wil­liams’s place in the pan­theon of great­est ath­letes ever is al­ready as­sured — for that she does not need to com­plete a Grand Slam, which is just another nu­mer­i­cal for­mal­ity in a ca­reer of as­ton­ish­ing scope. This was her fourth straight vic­tory in a ma­jor, a so-called “Ser­ena Slam,” and it comes fully 12 years af­ter she first per­formed the feat. No one else can claim such a breath­tak­ing book­end. Her com­bi­na­tion of dis­con­tented am­bi­tion and phys­i­cal force, con­tin­u­ally rein­vent­ing her­self with even deeper stamina and big­ger game at the age of 33, is un­prece­dented.

“I’ve learned a lot — that I’m able to do any­thing,” she said.

And she shows no sign of be­ing sat­is­fied. She does not care to dwell on her place in history, be­cause “If you look back, it’s so easy to be­come sat­is­fied and com­pla­cent,” she said. “That’s one thing I don’t want to have.”

Only three women have com­pleted a cal­en­dar sweep of all four ma­jor cham­pi­onships: Mau­reen Con­nolly Brinker of the United States in 1953, Mar­garet Court of Aus­tralia in 1970 and St­effi-Graf of Ger­many in 1988. Stronger than ever and with no sign of tir­ing, it seems in­evitable that Wil­liams will ap­proach the record for over­all Grand Slam ti­tles held by Court, who won 24 ma­jors, and catch Graf, who won 22.

This was Wil­liams’s sixth vic­tory at Wim­ble­don alone, where she be­came the eldest woman in the Open era to win. Her fi­nal with Mugu­ruza will en­ter the long cat­a­logue of matches in which Wil­liams sim­ply men­tally and phys­i­cally over­pow­ered a wor­thy op­po­nent.

It also will be re­mem­bered as a star-mak­ing ve­hi­cle for Mugu­ruza. “I think I fight all I can fight,” said the thin-waisted, 6-foot-tall Spa­niard, who was ap­pear­ing in her first ma­jor fi­nal yet led for much of the first set and re­fused to go easy in the sec­ond de­spite trail­ing 5-1.

It was a mea­sure of how much Wil­liams wants this his­toric achieve­ment that she be­gan the match clearly out of sorts and wracked with nerves. She opened with three dou­ble faults to drop her serve in the first game. Through­out the af­ter­noon she con­tin­ued to short-arm first serves into the net tape and sail ground­strokes long or into the al­leys, with eight dou­ble faults and a scat­tered, un­char­ac­ter­is­tic 15 un­forced er­rors. But if she lacked the clean-hit­ting su­pe­ri­or­ity of other per­for­mances at the All Eng­land club this past week, she made up for it with sheer will.

“She finds the way, be­ing so ner­vous, to serve, to hit win­ners,” Mugu­ruza said. “She’s world num­ber one. That’s what I saw to­day.”

It was an im­por­tant learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Mugu­ruza, who two years ago was not even ranked in the world’s top 100 play­ers. “I learned I have the level,” she said.

Mugu­ruza proved her fear­less­ness with round­house strokes that forced Wil­liams from chalk line to chalk line. But when Wil­liams broke back to even the first set at 4-4 with a low skim­mer of a fore­hand that Mugu­ruza couldn’t han­dle, the mo­men­tum swung. Wil­liams be­gan grab­bing the air with her fist and shout­ing at her­self, “Come on!”

When Wil­liams raced out to her 5-1 lead in the sec­ond set, break­ing serve with another of those low fore­hand skim­mers, it looked like a wipe­out. But Mugu­ruza showed so much met­tle over the next four games that Wil­liams pre­dicted af­ter­ward that she will be a Wim­ble­don cham­pion one day. “She came out there to win,” Wil­liams said. “She wasn’t out there just to play a fi­nal. I think that says a lot about her and her fu­ture. She never gave up, lit­er­ally ever.”

They du­eled on op­pos­ing base­lines, mak­ing out­stretched shots and des­per­ate re­trievals.

The high point of the match came when Wil­liams tried to serve it out at 5-3. Mugu­ruza stunned her with a huge wrist­ing back­hand re­turn at an im­pos­si­ble an­gle that left Wil­liams flat­footed and fac­ing 0-40. Wil­liams fought back with a se­ries of fu­ri­ously blasted aces and serve win­ners for a match point. But the Spa­niard killed it by bury­ing a fore­hand cross in the cor­ner — and fi­nally took the game with another line drive fore­hand that made the place erupt. They were back on serve at 5-4.

But it all led to a weird an­ti­cli­max. In the very next game, with Mugu­ruza serv­ing on a sec­ond match point, she tried an insideout an­gle fore­hand that curled into the al­ley. Wil­liams stood still, ap­par­ently half ex­pect­ing Mugu­ruza to chal­lenge the call. Si­lence reigned for a long mo­ment, be­fore the chair um­pire called, “Game, set and match.”

“I didn’t even know it was over be­cause she was fight­ing so hard,” Wil­liams said.

It took only about 10 min­utes and a vic­tory lap around the court hold­ing the tro­phy — which at one point she de­light­edly bal­anced on top of her head — for Wil­liams’s thoughts to turn to the U.S. Open. It will be played Aug. 31 through Sept. 13 in New York. In her post­match news con­fer­ence, Wil­liams was asked whether she had thought about it yet. Of course she had. “Oh, come on,” she said wryly, sig­nal­ing that in fact it was al­ready very much on her mind.

“I was peace­ful, feel­ing re­ally good,” she said. “Maybe a lit­tle af­ter that, I started think­ing about New York.”

GLYN KIRK/AFP VIA GETTY IM­AGES

TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

Ser­ena Wil­liams serves to Gar­bineMugu­ruza dur­ing the Wim­ble­don fi­nal Satur­day. Wil­liams has won 21 ma­jor ti­tles and can fin­ish the cal­en­dar Grand Sla­mat the U.S. Open.

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