Serena Williams storms past helpless Barbora Strycova to reach 11th Wimbledon singles final

Simon Briggs
Williams has taken the first set on Centre Court - AFP
Williams has taken the first set on Centre Court - AFP

The lesson of the semi-finals was clear. A serene Serena Williams ­remains all but invincible, even as she approaches her 38th birthday.

Williams produced her most dominant win of the tournament, barging an underpowered Barbora Strycova out of her way in just 59 minutes.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

Then, after rounding off a straight-sets victory with her 28th clean winner, Williams told reporters about a moment of quiet ­contemplation earlier in the day.

Asked about her pursuit of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major titles – a tally she would equal if she beats Simona Halep in ­Saturday's final – Williams said: “I thought about it this morning. I just kind of let it go this morning. Yeah, I feel really calm about it.

“It’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25. It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career.”

<span>Serena Williams is bidding for her 24th grand slam title</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
Serena Williams is bidding for her 24th grand slam title Credit: AP

Thursday's match offered the same banana-skin potential as ­Williams’s 2015 US Open semi-final against Roberta Vinci. In both cases, Williams was the strong favourite, taking on a veteran of the tour who had never reached that stage of a major before. And in both cases, there was a massive prize at stake – either the calendar grand slam, four years ago, or Court’s ­record this time around.

Vinci and Strycova even employed a similar game style. A pair of champion doubles players, they tried to outflank Williams’s raw power with changes of pace and frequent visits to the net. But while Williams had been flustered and ­erratic against Vinci, she was a model of composure from the first game, which she won with a delicate, angled smash.

One feature of Williams’s near-flawless performance was the way that she matched or even exceeded Strycova’s dexterity in the forecourt – a surprising development that she later put down to her mixed doubles campaign with Andy Murray. “I promise you, when I hit a volley I was like, ‘Would I have made that if I didn’t play doubles?’” Williams said. “I don’t think so. I kept telling you guys I thought the doubles would help me. I know that when I play doubles here with Venus it ­definitely helps my singles game. I was really keen to play mixed here.”

If Strycova did not put up as much of a fight as she had against Johanna Konta in Tuesday’s quarter-final, that was partly because she tweaked a right gluteal muscle on the second point of the match, so restricting her normally fleet-footed movement.

<span>Strycova tweaked a right gluteal muscle on the second point of the match</span> <span>Credit: Eddie Mulholland </span>
Strycova tweaked a right gluteal muscle on the second point of the match Credit: Eddie Mulholland

Yet as Strycova admitted afterwards, in a surprisingly cheerful interview, she would have been powerless to cope with Williams on this form in any case. 

“I was playing a totally different player today, totally different groundstrokes,” she said, after an afternoon spent chasing shadows.

Konta strikes the ball hard, but Williams was obliterating it. Whatever she did to fix up her dodgy right knee after her third-round exit from the French Open, it has worked a treat. So why was Williams’s performance yesterday so superior to her previous five matches? Perhaps it had something to do with that morning meditation, which helped her put the expectations and pressure to one side.

The next thing you know, she will be emulating Novak Djokovic by frequenting the nearby Buddhapadipa Temple – a Buddhist retreat staffed by saffron-robed monks.

“I was actually thinking this morning [about] when I won my first Wimbledon,” Williams said. 

“I think it was against Venus. I was trying to tap into those emotions. I was really calm. It’s so, so different when you’re younger as opposed to now.”

Saturday promises to be a great occasion. Not only did Halep inflict an equally crushing defeat on eighth seed Elina Svitolina, but all four of her previous major finals produced three-set epics.

On today’s evidence, though, this title is Williams’s to win or lose.

If she can remain as emotionally stable as she was against Strycova, and somehow forget the size of the stakes, she will be well-placed to collect her first major since she left the tour to become a mother, early in 2017.

“I was calm today [but] it’s a day-to-day basis with me,” she said. “We all know that. I’m far from perfect.”

At the press conference, Williams was asked about last year’s defeat by Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final, and whether she can go one better this time around. 

“I just remember I was tired and Angie played unbelievable. I ­actually was sad, but I was also proud of myself. Physically I just wasn’t there. So I’m definitely at a different place.”

One side-effect of Williams’s ­progress could be a repeat of last week’s royal visit by the Duchess of Sussex. The security for the previous instance – a relatively low-profile trip to No 1 Court eight days ago – has come under fire for being heavy-handed, but Williams insisted: “Any time I see her name attached to anything, I don’t read it.

“She couldn’t be a better friend to me,” Williams added of the Duchess, whose wedding she attended last year. “Low moments, high moments, she’s always there. That’s all I want to be to her.”

4:06PM

Serena speaks:

It’s good, especially after my year! It feels good to be back in the final. I just needed some matches. Every match I’m improving. Now I’m feeling good I can do what I do best, and that’s playing tennis. I wake up every morning and I get to be fit, play in front of crowds. Not everyone can do that. I love what I do, it’s just a remarkable experience. [Halep is] tough. We always have tough matches. I look forward to it.

4:01PM

Serena Williams beats Barbora Strycova 6-1, 6-2!     

Strycova's entourage celebrate a backhand winner like it's a set point, but Williams steps in to batter away a forehand to level it up. The net cord edges Strycova back ahead, but Williams serves down the middle in response.

A second serve out wide gives Strycova too much to do and Williams has match point. That's taken with minimal fuss and she's into her eleventh Wimbledon final!

3:56PM

*Williams 6-1, 5-2 Strycova (*next to serve)            

Strycova battles on, but each extra yard is a punishment: 15-30. A drop shot sails into the net, and her serve slips away again. Another double-break for Serena! She will now serve for the match.

3:52PM

Williams 6-1, 4-2 Strycova* (*next to serve)           

That hamstring is taking its toll now for Strycova, and Williams presses forward. A forehand finds the corner, and it's soon 40-0. Strycova nets, and this match is not long for this world.

3:48PM

*Williams 6-1, 3-2 Strycova (*next to serve)          

They trade points, before a wild Williams forehand return gives Strycova some hope. But a double fault at 30-all is not ideal. That's the momentum halted, and Serena breaks again!

3:44PM

Williams 6-1, 2-2 Strycova* (*next to serve)         

Big serve from Williams is followed by a draining rally that ends with Strycova sending a forehand long: 30-0.

Serena serves and volleys for 40-0, before Strycova's forehand responds down the line. But it's no use on the Williams serve right now.

3:41PM

*Williams 6-1, 1-2 Strycova (*next to serve)        

More positive play from Strycova pays off this time for 40-15, but she's forced into defensive mode again before Williams kills the next point off. Back she comes, though, and Williams can only net on the backhand. Hold.

<span>Strycova has come out fighting in set two</span> <span>Credit: REX </span>
Strycova has come out fighting in set two Credit: REX

3:36PM

Williams 6-1, 1-1 Strycova* (*next to serve)       

Strycova tries an aggressive returning position, but Williams is still too strong and it's soon 40-0. A Strycova backhand winner catches the line, but Williams aces it out.

3:32PM

*Williams 6-1, 0-1 Strycova (*next to serve)      

Right, here we go. Strycova serves first in an attempt to scale the impossible peak of Mt. Being A Set Down To Serena Williams At Wimbledon.

At 30-0, and ace down the middle reminds Centre Court there are two players out there, before Williams forces an error. Strycova stands firm at the net next to complete a much-needed hold.

3:28PM

Williams wins the first set 6-1!

Hamstring or not, Strycova battling away: 0-30! A well-earned net cord then gives her three break points!

Serena serves out wide to save the first, and then wallops a forehand into the vacant right corner for 30-40. Strycova yelps as she sends a backhand long, and her chance of a break is gone: deuce.

In comes Williams to the net, flicking a backhand winner across court, and an ace out wide takes the first set in 27 minutes!

<span>Williams has won the first set in commanding style</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Williams has won the first set in commanding style Credit: AFP

3:25PM

*Williams 5-1 Strycova (*next to serve)     

Strycova dares to go 15-0 up, but Williams advances to the net to volley away and then again to steer a forehand into the right corner. A backhand plonks itself on the line for 40-15 and the double break soon follows!

3:20PM

Williams 4-1 Strycova* (*next to serve)    

Ace! Williams races to 40-0 as Strycova's hamstring continues to hamper her movement, and it's an easy hold.

<span>Strycova may have an injury already</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Strycova may have an injury already Credit: AFP

3:18PM

*Williams 3-1 Strycova (*next to serve)   

At 15-0, Williams zips a backhand return cross-court to remind Strycova who she's messing with. At 30-all, Williams annoys herself with an overjuiced backhand, but she soon has the Czech chasing all over the shop for deuce. Strycova stretches out a hamstring, and Williams breaks!

3:11PM

Williams 2-1 Strycova* (*next to serve)  

Williams still finding her range: at 15-0, a backhand flies well long, but she sends the next into the right corner and Strycova can't get her racket around it.

<span>Williams serves on Centre Court</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Williams serves on Centre Court Credit: AFP

Williams nets for 30-all, before Strycova undercooks a drop-shot. A backhand/forehand combo completes the job.

3:07PM

*Williams 1-1 Strycova (*next to serve) 

Strycova serves out wide for 15-0, before a Williams forehand return bullets just wide. A Strycova volley lands out for 30-15, but Williams drags a forehand wide. Another misjudged Serena backhand gives Strycova the hold.

3:04PM

Williams 1-0 Strycova* (*next to serve)

A brutally short point is followed by an even more brutal rally that pins Strycova into the corner until she relents for 30-0. A double fault from Serena, though, and then a backhand goes long.

The Czech nets a backhand return for 40-30, and Williams converts an overhead to get on the board in her 37th career Grand Slam semi-final.

3:00PM

Serena to serve...

Ready? Play.

2:53PM

Players are out on Centre...

...Williams leads out the 33-year-old Czech challenger to some warm applause, as always.

2:32PM

Halep awaits

The winner of this one will take on first-time finalist Simona Halep on Saturday, after she swept aside Elina Svitolina in little over an hour on Centre Court.

2:23PM

Serena's semi-finals: 19 years a contender

Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Mark Philippoussis, Great Britain's brave Barry Cowan, Jeff Tarango, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Anna Kournikova, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. 

The cast of the Wimbledon fortnight of 2000 feel like ancient memories. Except for one 18-year-old semi-finalist. 

Serena Williams fell in straight sets to her sister Venus, but she would be back. Again and again.

19 years later, she's still here. One grand slam away from Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 titles. A troublesome left knee, ground down by two decades of the WTA Tour, suddenly doesn't hurt so much at the business end of Wimbledon. 

"Now it is different," says her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. "We had two weeks not thinking about pain, but thinking about what we needed to do to get ready. When she is playing, she is 100 per cent focusing on the game and winning. That’s the most important thing." 

When Serena's eyes are on the prize, that's not good news for whoever's on the other side of the net. Since Venus in 2000, there has been Amelie Mauresmo, there has been Justine Henin, Zheng Jie, Elena Dementieva, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Elena Vesnina, Julia Goerges. Serena has never again lost a Wimbledon semi-final.

Enter Barbora Strycova. But how long before she exits again?

What to Read Next