Super Serena is not finished yet
Tonight’s match will be a heady mix of sport, celebrity and royalty, with Williams’s close friend Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, expected to be courtside.
“We’ve always had a wonderful friendship,” Williams said. “Every year, for a couple years, she comes out to Wimbledon, has supported me. Now she’s supporting me in a different role. But our friendship is still the same.
“We always have supported each other, just been there for each other through a lot. I look forward to it.”
In 2016, Meghan was pictured in Williams’ player’s box, but tonight will be her first taste of the Royal Box.
Williams joked she could assume her own royal title. She wouldn’t be wrong.
“If there was a Wimbledon royalty, I would like to believe I would be Wimbledon royalty because I’ve done pretty well here in the past,” she said.
Williams, of course, was among the celebrity-studded guests at the royal wedding in May, photographed at St George’s Chapel in Windsor alongside her husband, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian.
There were rumours she had indulged in a game of beer ping-pong at the evening reception. Williams laughs off the talk, saying it was “not even remotely true,” adding: “I don’t even drink beer.”
The Windsor-Wimbledon double has been part of a hectic and life-changing 18 months for Williams that all began right here in Melbourne in January last year.
It seemed like a regulation victory when Williams defeated sister Venus to claim her 23rd Grand Slam title at Rod Laver Arena.
She was, in fact, eight weeks pregnant, and in a thoroughly Millennial problem, revealed the news in a social media selfie faux pas. The swimsuit photo with the caption “20 weeks” was meant for her Snapchat friends but instead was sent to all her followers.
Williams married the father of her baby daughter a little over two months after the traumatic birth. The “Beauty and the Beast” themed wedding was held under lockdown in New Orleans with the couple releasing just a handful of photographs from the event.
She did, however, reveal in a recent interview that she was surprised to find herself in an interracial marriage but, somehow, she and Ohanian were a natural fit.
“I never thought I would have married a white guy,” she told the New York Times. “I’m an athlete. He’s a business guy. I’m black. He’s white. We are totally opposite. I think we just complement each other. I think we understand hard work in different ways.
“Ultimately, I wanted to be with someone who treated me nice, someone who was able to laugh with me and someone who understood my life and someone that loved me …”
The Wimbledon campaign has not been without hiccups.
Returning to the tennis circuit six months after the birth of Alexis Olympia, Williams did not perform well at either Indian Wells or Miami, with coach Patrick Mouratoglou declaring she came back too early.
There was talk of a title defence at the Australian Open, but Williams withdrew at the last minute. She wasn’t ready to take on another match until the French Open last month. She looked in good form, setting up a fourthround clash with longtime rival Maria Sharapova (herself not long back on the circuit following a 15-month doping suspension), but had to pull out due to an injury.
If successful against Germany’s Angelique Kerber tonight, Williams will emulate Evonne Goolagong-Cawley’s feat to hold the world’s greatesttitle as a mother.
Just 13 matches into her comeback, Williams is aiming to add to Wimbledon titles earned in 2002-03, 2009-10, 2012 and 2015-16. She lost All England Club deciders in 2004 (to Sharapova) and 2008 to sister Venus.
At 36 years, 293 days, Williams would become the oldest Grand Slam women’s champion in the 50-year Open era (post-1968), surpassing her own record from the 2017 Australian Open.
Only Martina Navratilova (nine) and Helen Wills-Moody (eight) have been more successful than Williams at Wimbledon.
Williams — whose career has also earned her four Olympic gold medals and more than $85 million in prize money — said winning tonight was a starting point, not the end.
“As I said in the past couple years, I don’t want to limit myself,” she said. “I think that’s what I was doing in the past, I was limiting myself.”
Asked what a 24th title would mean, Williams said: “It’s just a number. I want to get as many as I can … I still have a match to win, so I’m not even there yet.
“I think that’s a good thing because I put so much pressure on myself when I was trying to get to 18 (equalling Navratilova and Chris Evert), then the rest, it was so much.”
In the build-up to Thursday’s semi-final against Julia Goerges, there had been rumblings that Williams had yet to be tested. She hadn’t run into any top 50 player since none of the top 10 seeds made it into the last eight.
American great Billie Jean King gave voice to what many were thinking. “Emotionally and mentally no one can beat Serena, but will she hold up physically after having a baby?” the six-time Wimbledon champion said.
The question was answered with a 70-minute 6-2 6-4 destruction.
“This is as well as she has played in her career. She was solid in every facet of the game,” Navratilova gushed. “This a champion at her best. Everything is there and then some. It’s almost like she’s not feeling the pressure as much as life has taken a new turn. It looks like she was never away.” Still, one more statistic. The 13-month break has left Williams with a world ranking of 181, making her the lowest ranked player ever to contest a women’s final. But it doesn’t mean much.
“I’m so in a zone in terms of just wanting to keep playing,” Williams said.
“Being here and having an opportunity to play is super great for me. I have to be ready for the match of my life.”
SERENA AND HUSBAND ALEXIS ARRIVE AT THE WEDDING OF PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE
SERENA WILLIAMS AND DAUGHTER ALEXIS OLYMPIA