Just 10 months after a complicated childbirth that left her close to death, Serena Williams will contest tomorrow’s Wimbledon final with the opportunity to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam titles.
Watching her imperious 6-2, 6-4 semi-final victory over Julia Goerges on Thursday, it was impossible to discern that the seven-time Wimbledon champion had previously played three tournaments since returning from maternity leave in February, let alone that she was “touch and go” after undergoing an emergency caesarean for the birth of Alexis Olympia.
“It’s no secret I had a super tough delivery,” Williams said. “I lost count after, like, four surgeries because I was in so many surgeries. It was just routine every day, I had to have a new surgery. Because of all the blood issues I have, I was really touch and go for a minute.
“I didn’t actually know until after my agent, Jill, who is actually more of a friend, but she was saying how much stress it was. I’m glad no-one told me at the time I was going through that. It was tough. There was a time I could barely walk to my mailbox. For me it’s such a pleasure and a joy [to be in the final] because less than a year ago I was going through so much stuff.’’
The former world No 1 took just 70 minutes to dispatch Goerges in emphatic fashion. She reaches the final against Angelique Kerber, where she will call upon the support of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, having dropped just one set in the tournament.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) July 12, 2018
When you remember the fact that she continues to suffer from pulmonary embolisms and that she will turn 37 in September – there are younger players taking part in this year’s invitational doubles – her achievements are truly astonishing, however rich her past pedigree.
“It’s not frustrating [being a favourite], but it’s like, ‘C’mon guys, this is pretty awesome’,” Williams said. “To hear people say, ‘Oh, she’s a favourite’. Like, the last 16 months, I’ve played four tournaments, and was carrying another human half that time.
“It’s interesting. But when I wasn’t a favourite, I was kind of upset about that. It’s like, ‘C’mon, what can make me happy?’ I have to figure out which I prefer.”
All the pre-tournament doubts were well-founded. The lack of match practice, the lingering physical effects of childbirth, the withdrawal from the French Open and the potential loss of aura and focus. All rendered null and void.
With each of her six matches here, her old sense of inevitability has increased. It is like she has never been away and with Kerber providing a rematch of the 2016 final the sense of deja vu grow even stronger.
Her performance against Goerges – her 20th consecutive victory at Wimbledon – was her best since her return, underlined by winning 27 of 31 points on her first serve.
Before the match you could have made the case that the German had a puncher’s chance. After all she had the higher world ranking (13 v 181) and of the semi-finalists had hit the most winners (199) and most aces (44) against a higher quality of opponent than Williams had faced.
None of them were remotely near Williams’ standard, however, and that soon became apparent.
Williams gradually turned up the speed and volume dials. Already a break up, the American broke again in the eight game, unleashing a lion-like roar as she returned a Goerges second serve to go love-30 up.
Goerges hardly played badly. In fact her tally of 12 winners to just five unforced errors in the first set should have been good enough to win against most opponents. Williams, however, is not like most opponents.
Perhaps the only remaining question mark was over Williams’ court coverage but while she trudges between points like a sulking teenager, she demonstrated the turn of speed of a startled gazelle when needed.
The best example of her mobility came in breaking Goerges in the sixth game of the second set in returning a ball several feet wide of the tramlines. The only blip was being broken while serving for the match.
Williams responded in customary fashion by breaking back to love to set her date with history, or rather history has a date with Serena Williams. She needs another two titles here to tie Martina Navratilova’s record, although her status as the “Queen of Wimbledon” has long since been assured.
“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,” Williams said.
Of her other royal connection, she added: “Every year for a couple years she [the Duchess of Sussex] comes out to Wimbledon, has supported me. Now she’s supporting me in a different role. But our friendship is still exactly the same. We always have supported each other, just been there for each other through a lot.”
Not that she will be thinking about the Royal Box occupants tomorrow. Nor does she claim – with little credibility – that she has paid any attention to tying Court’s record.
“To be perfectly honest, I haven’t thought about that this tournament,” Williams said.
“Not even once actually. I don’t want to limit myself. I think that’s what I was doing in the past, I was limiting myself. 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.”