Ser­ena in fi­nal, close to fin­ish­ing come­back

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Sports -

child­birth, has taken a sig­nif­i­cant stride back into the spot­light. She knocked off Ju­lia Go­erges, 6-2, 6-4, Thurs­day to reach the Wim­ble­don women’s sin­gles fi­nal for the 10th time.

Wil­liams will play An­gelique Ker­ber on Satur­day with an eighth ti­tle in her sights. Ker­ber is an op­po­nent Wil­liams has beaten six times in eight tries. This is a re­match of the 2016 fi­nal, which Wil­liams won, 7-5, 6-3.

“She’s al­ways push­ing you to the lim­its to play your best ten­nis,” said Ker­ber, who ad­vanced this time by beat­ing Je­lena Ostapenko. “This is the only chance to beat her.”

Wil­liams has reached the fi­nals? That doesn’t sound like break­ing news. But con­sid­er­ing what she went through to get this far, it’s un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive. Hers was not a rou­tine child­birth. She had an emer­gency C-sec­tion in Septem­ber, then a pul­monary em­bolism that caused in­tense cough­ing. That led to her sur­gi­cal wound re­open­ing, a swelling of clot­ted blood in her ab­domen, and long and painful re­cov­ery.

“I lost count af­ter, like, four surg­eries,” Wil­liams said. “It was just rou­tine: Every day I had to have a new surgery.”

Even when she was back on her feet, it was ten­u­ous. She was miles from get­ting back on the court.

“There was a time,” she said, “when I could barely walk to my mail­box.”

In light of that, it’s not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing that the long­time world No. 1 came into this tour­na­ment ranked 181 — the low­es­tranked player to reach a Wim­ble­don semi­fi­nal, let alone fi­nal. She has since rock­eted to 51 and can climb to 19 if she wins Satur­day.

Rank­ings and seed­ings are of lit­tle pre­dic­tive value on the women’s side this year. None of the tour­na­ment’s top 10 seeded play­ers made it to the quar­ter­fi­nals, and this is only the sec­ond time in the last decade that every one of those top 10 has been re­duced to spec­ta­tor sta­tus for the fi­nal.

Wil­liams, who turns 37 in Septem­ber, be­came the old­est Grand Slam sin­gles cham­pion when she won the Aus­tralian Open in 2017. She now has a chance to over­take that record.

Ker­ber is no pushover. She beat Wil­liams in the 2016 Aus­tralian Open fi­nal, and — in ad­di­tion to reach­ing the Wim­ble­don fi­nal — won the U.S. Open that year.

Wil­liams called it “wildly im­pres­sive” that Ker­ber has reached the Wim­ble­don fi­nal twice in three years.

“I think grass is her best sur­face,” she said. “She plays so well here. She knows how toplay on this court.”

Then again, there has been a Wil­liams sis­ter in the Wim­ble­don fi­nal in each of the past four years — Ser­ena in 2015, 2016 and this year, and Venus a year ago. Both have dealt with sig­nif­i­cant med­i­cal is­sues; Venus has Sjo­gren’s syn­drome, an auto-im­mune dis­ease that causes mus­cle sore­ness and chronic fa­tigue.

Ser­ena Wil­liams said she is haunted by the thought she might suf­fer an­other pul­monary em­bolism.

“I have a pain in my leg, I au­to­mat­i­cally go to the worst-case sce­nario,” she said. “That is not very easy. 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 PE in my leg.’

“It’s men­tally very, very dif­fi­cult. 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.”

On the flip side, she said moth­er­hood has dra­mat­i­cally changed her life for the bet­ter.

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