Wimbledon 2016: Serena Williams beats Angelique Kerber to claim No22 at last

Serena Williams beats Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon 2016 final 7-5 6-3 to win her 22nd singles grand slam title

It has become hard to ignore one singular golden thread that has woven its way through each round of the women’s tournament at this year’s Wimbledon.

With world No1 Serena Williams and No4 Angelique Kerber drawn in opposite sides of the draw, there was always the chance that they could end up on opposite sides of the net come finals day—just as they had in the final of the Australian Open.

Not that Kerber had been the only fly in the ointment of Williams’ ambition to win a record-equalling 22nd singles Grand Slam title: Roberta Vinci ended Williams run at the US Open, and only weeks ago at Roland Garros, Garbine Muguruza did the same.

But when Williams won here last year, it had raised the very real prospect that she could win Major No22 and the Calendar Slam in one go at the US Open. Indeed at the time, many could see few impediments to Williams arriving here this year on equal terms with the all-time record of Margaret Court’s 24 Majors.

What few anticipated was that Williams would struggle to overcome the biggest foe of all: herself.

By the time she faced her greatest fans in New York, where she had won three times in a row, she began to look physically and emotionally exhausted, and lost in the semis: She did not play again in 2015.

In her first tournament back, Williams looked certain to do it in Australia, and barely dropped a game let alone a set in her progress to the final, only to be beaten by Kerber in the performance of her life. Then in Paris, Williams again looked tense, stressed, and unable to control her own destiny.

Now, at Wimbledon, the writing was on the wall again, for now she had the pressure of “22” but also of “No1”. With the latter already safely negotiated—she guaranteed her 300th week at the top by reaching the final here—could she retain the calm, focused, yet intense demeanour to finally get No22?

Back to Kerber, then, and that gold thread. For the record targeted by Williams belonged to Steffi Graf, the last German woman to win a Major until Kerber.

Not surprisingly, Graf was Kerber’s idol as a girl, and she described it as “a dream come true, a great honour” to be invited to practise with her at her US home: and she soaked up all the advice on offer: “She just told me… just believe in yourself, practise hard. She was really believing in me.”

And when Kerber beat Williams in Australia, she could not resist saying: “I think I helped Steffi right now!”

In another interesting alignment between the champions, this year marked 20 years since Graf won the last of her seven Wimbledon titles: Williams goes for her seventh today.

It was at the French Open in 1999 that Graf won her last Major, and months later, Williams would win her first Major just before her 18th birthday at the US Open. Indeed these two cross-generation champions, separated by 13 years in age, played each other twice in that transition year. Graf won in Brisbane in three sets, Williams won in Indian Wells in an almost identical score.

Of course, when Williams and Kerber walked onto Centre Court for their own place in the record books, Graf was not on the mind of either.

While the first point went to Kerber, the first hold went to Serena with a 120mph ace. And the pressure was immediately on the German, who faced three break points and three deuces before she held.

It was the same story in the next few games, and by the seventh, the intensity was already sky high as Serena faced and resisted her first deuce and pumped her fists to her box.

The volume of both players was also sky high, matched only by the hum and buzz around the Centre Court. Williams faced deuce again in the ninth game, slid to the ground in her efforts to chase down the latest pounding forehand from Kerber.

It looked for all the world as though it would go to a tie-break, especially when Williams thumped three big serves to come back from 15-30, but then Kerber showed a small chink, put two forehands wide, and Williams pounced to break, 7-5.

Williams’ aggressive tactics, designed to take control with her serve, shone through in her stats: 10 points from 12 net approaches, 24 winners to six from Kerber.

The second set remained just as intense, the rallies long and demanding, and they each roared with effort as the clock passed an hour. Even the wind decided to play a part, distracting Williams’s serve in the fifth game.

The American faced and saved her only break point of the match with, of course, an ace, which she followed with her fastest serve of the match, 124mph. She was so pumped she looked, at times, as though she might explode, and again ended up on the ground after a crazy net-rally that went eventually to Kerber.

But once again, a couple of wayward shots from the German, and Williams pounced, broke, and served for the match. Perhaps no surprise that she served big, and smashed an overhead to seal the deal to love, 6-3.

Williams has, then, at last equalled that Open era record of 22 singles Majors and, what’s more, she has extended her own record as the oldest Grand Slam champion: She will be 35 in September.

By her birthday, she may be one Major closer Court’s all-time record of 24, but she was quick to quash any such distraction this year.

“One thing I learned about last year is to enjoy the moment. I’m definitely going to enjoy this. You know, I have the Olympics coming up. I’ll take it one at a time. I’ve learned a lot about 22 [smiling]. I learned not to get involved in those debates and conversations. I just learned to just play tennis. That’s what I do best.”

She went on to talk about that foe that had dogged her, the stress since this time last year.

“I’ve just felt a lot of pressure, I guess. I put a lot of that pressure on myself. Obviously had some really tough losses. But, you know, if you look at the big picture, I was just thinking about getting to three finals, Grand Slam finals.

“I had to start looking at positives, not focusing on that one loss per tournament which really isn’t bad… Once I started focusing more on the positives, I realized that I’m pretty good. Then [smiling] I started playing a little better.”

This was, of course, not just about records, that golden thread that links one era to another. It was about fine tennis, and the fine sportsmanship that went with it.

Kerber was gracious in defeat. She said afterwards: “[She’s] a great player and a great person. It’s always an honour to play against [her]… I think I was not the one to lose the match, I think Serena won it.”

And Williams was equally generous: “You know I love playing her. She brings out the best tennis from me. And off the court she is a great person. So thanks, Angelique.”

She added, with a shrug of her shoulders: “Yes, this court definitely feels like home. In fact I have a match later in doubles!”

She looked up at her elder sister in her players’ box. For sure enough, after five-time Wimbledon champion Venus also made the semis this week, the two were into the final of the doubles, and pursuing a sixth doubles title here, their 14th overall.

Bearing in mind they have never lost a Major doubles final, the day looked set to close with yet another trophy for the Williams’ family.

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