Super Ser­ena is not fin­ished yet

Herald Sun - - SATURDAY - leo.schlink@news.com.au

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

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