Wil­liams play­ing in re­cov­ery mode

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Ser­ena Wil­liams has been say­ing it over and over and over: Wim­ble­don is only her fourth tour­na­ment since re­turn­ing to the tour af­ter hav­ing a baby.

“Every time I go out there, I want to, I guess, take a gi­ant step for­ward,” she said. “Keep tak­ing gi­ant steps, but keep im­prov­ing.”

Wil­liams played a to­tal of seven matches in 2018 be­fore ar­riv­ing at the All Eng­land Club, and she’ll be play­ing her sev­enth match in the last two weeks when she meets 11th-seeded An­gelique Ker­ber of Ger­many in the Wim­ble­don fi­nal to­day.

It didn’t take long for the 36-year-old Amer­i­can to get her game in gear and close

in on what would be an eighth Wim­ble­don ti­tle, one short of Martina Navratilova’s record, and 24th Grand Slam tro­phy in all, equal­ing Mar­garet Court’s all-time mark.

It was only 101/2 months ago that Wil­liams had far more se­ri­ous con­cerns.

Af­ter giv­ing birth to her daugh­ter, Olympia, on Sept. 1, Wil­liams dealt with health com­pli­ca­tions that in­cluded blood clots and led to what she said were mul­ti­ple op­er­a­tions.

“Al­most didn’t make it, to be hon­est,” Wil­liams said shortly af­ter com­plet­ing her 6-2, 6-4 semi­fi­nal vic­tory over 13th-seeded Ju­lia Go­erges on Thurs­day.

She’s been wear­ing com­pres­sion leg­gings dur­ing her matches as a pre­cau­tion and says she re­mains ner­vous.

“I mean, even this week, I had a pain in my leg, and I went to the worst-case sce­nario: ‘Oh, my God, I have a [pul­monary em­bolism] in my leg,’ ” Wil­liams said. “I didn’t know I would have such, kind of, trau­matic thoughts. Es­pe­cially now that I have a daugh­ter, I want to be around as long as I can to sup­port her. It’s in­ter­est­ing how that men­tal re­cov­ery is ac­tu­ally tak­ing much longer than I ever ex­pected.”

The ten­nis? That’s come quite nat­u­rally, not sur­pris­ingly.

She was off the tour for more than a year af­ter her Aus­tralian Open ti­tle in Jan­uary 2017 — won while she was preg­nant, she later re­vealed. Wil­liams first came back by play­ing dou­bles with her older sis­ter, Venus, for the U.S. Fed Cup team in Fe­bru­ary. Then came her sin­gles re­turn, at In­dian Wells in March, when she won her first two matches

be­fore los­ing to her sib­ling.

Next was a first-round loss at Mi­ami.

“I hon­estly felt I would have done bet­ter in some of the ear­lier tour­na­ments. That was the hard­est part — ac­cept­ing that I didn’t,” Wil­liams said. “I know that sounds weird, but I worked out a lot and I worked hard.”

Fol­low­ing an­other two months away from com­pe­ti­tion, she en­tered the French Open in late May, and won three matches be­fore pulling out be­fore the fourth round be­cause of an in­jured pec­toral mus­cle.

Wil­liams rested some af­ter that, not prac­tic­ing serv­ing at all for a cou­ple of weeks, and was able to ease into things once Wim­ble­don be­gan be­cause of a draw that al­lowed her to avoid play­ing any seeded op­po­nents — or any­one ranked in­side the top 50, for that mat­ter — un­til Go­erges, who was mak­ing her Grand

Slam semi­fi­nal de­but.

Now will come the sternest on-court test Wil­liams has faced: Ker­ber, a for­mer No. 1 and two-time ma­jor cham­pion with a lefty stroke and a never-give-up-on-a-ball de­fense.

Wil­liams is 23-6 in Grand Slam fi­nals, and Ker­ber is re­spon­si­ble for hand­ing her one of those rare de­feats, at the 2016 Aus­tralian Open. Ker­ber also won that year’s U.S. Open, re­plac­ing Wil­liams atop the WTA rank­ings right af­ter­ward. That was also the year that Ker­ber reached the Wim­ble­don fi­nal, los­ing to Wil­liams in straight sets.

They’ve played each other a to­tal of eight times in the past, and Wil­liams leads 6-2.

Af­ter win­ning her semi­fi­nal against Je­lena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-3, Ker­ber was asked what she sees across the net when she goes up against Wil­liams.

“I see a cham­pion,” Ker­ber said, “that’s for sure.”

Ker­ber

Wil­liams

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