Wimbledon 2018: Angelique Kerber ends magical comeback for Serena Williams to claim third Major
Angelique Kerber beats Serena Williams to win the Wimbledon title
It had been two years since Serena Williams won her second straight title here on the lawns of the All England Club, her seventh Wimbledon title, her 22nd Major singles title. And it seemed as though she had never been away.
Her 2015 Wimbledon title was one of three that year, her fourth in a row—the Serena Slam. She did not fall short of the semis in the next six Majors, winning No7 at Wimbledon and then No7 in Australia—her 23rd Major title.
What few knew was that, as she reclaimed the No1 ranking from Angelique Kerber in Australia, she was two months pregnant and would not play another Major until this year.
Even as recently as a month ago, with just seven matches to her name, and having withdrawn after her third match at the French Open with injury, many would not have given Williams a strong chance of making the final here this year.
But as she worked her way through her quarter of the draw, she began to show the old familiar strength and determination.
As a result, she began to be talked of as the favourite to do the impossible: return to Wimbledon, win more matches than she had played in the last 18 months, and perhaps win a record-equalling 24th Major—and all at a ranking of 181 and the age of 36. Should she fulfil this dream scenario, she would be lowest ranked ever to do so, and extend her own record as the oldest Major singles champion of the Open era.
Standing in her way, however, was a fellow 30-something and two-time Major champion. And it would be with a sense of dejà vu that they took to court for the final.
When Williams won that last title here in 2016, she did so by beating Kerber.
That was a rare loss for Kerber in a career-defining year that took her to the Australian title—where she became that rare woman, one who beat Williams in a Major final—and followed her final finish at Wimbledon with the title at the US Open. Add in the title in Stuttgart, and finals in Brisbane, Cincinnati, the Olympics and the WTA Finals, and it is little wonder she rose to No1.
By this time last year, she had accumulated 34 weeks at the top, but her form and confidence were slipping as she seemed to struggle with living up to her status and fame. But with a new team around her, and new coach Wim Fisstte, all that confidence began to return.
Australia this year showed the first real turn-around: good results at the Hopman Cup, title in Sydney, the semis at the Australian Open and Dubai, quarters at Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and the French Open.
She looked good on the grass of Eastbourne, too, and defied the culling of seeds in this tournament—all the top 10—to beat a tough draw at the All England Club. Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic, Daria Kasatkina, and Jelena Ostapenko made Williams’ draw look like a cake walk.
Yes Williams, playing an astonishing 30th Major final, was tipped to win, but everyone expected Kerber to push her close and hard.
The confidence of Kerber stood out at the coin toss: she elected to receive, and it proved a good choice. Williams started in familiar style, a winner down the forehand side, but a couple of errors brought break point, and a long rally went to Kerber.
The leftie German’s new improved serve had an immediate impact, too, opening the court for the winning one-two play. Kerber held comfortably, 2-0.
Williams lifted her game, improved her serve, stepped into the court with aggressive intent, and thumped a backhand winner to get on the scoreboard. Then all at once, Williams had forced the play to draw errors from Kerber for 0-40. Another backhand long from the German, and Williams broke to love, 2-2.
Williams upped her intensity still further, closing out the fifth game with her fastest serve of the tournament, a 125mph ace.
But come the seventh game, she fired two double faults to bring up 0-40, and looked suddenly vulnerable. She saved two break points, but not the third, 3-4.
Williams was going after the ball, striking hard but missing too often—perhaps in an effort to keep rallies short against her super-fit opponent. But she was over eager, trying too hard, missing the lines by inches. Kerber took advantage to open space, put Williams under pressure, and draw a 14th error and another break for the set, 6-3. Kerber had made only three unforced errors, Williams 14.
The German raced to a quick hold, 1-0, in the second, and then Williams faced trouble again. She was coming to the net often, not a usual tactic and not with great timing, but she found a touch volley and then a big serve to hold.
And although Williams adjusted her game, tried to take a little off her strokes to reduce the errors, it was not enough to contain the focused and supremely calm Kerber. The German’s running forehand down the line twice got the better of the American for a break in sixth game, 4-2.
It spelled the end, almost, though Williams stepped up to the plate with a love hold for 3-5. Williams showed the fight was not over, worked a small opening to 30 by reverting to her aggressive game-plan, but thumped a smash long, and Kerber served her victory out, 6-3, after just 65 minutes.
It had been a dominant performance from Kerber, full of certainty and controlled energy, even though this was not yet Williams back to her peak. It brought Kerber the third in her set of Majors, and she enjoyed a warm embrace and generous words from the former champion as the tears flowed.
Williams has, throughout the tournament, been acutely away that her run here has been unexpected and extraordinary. She said afterwards:
“I always enter a tournament just coming to do my best. This particular tournament, I entered just wanting to win some matches. I kept winning, and it kept happening. It was definitely a little bit of a surprise for me. Also it was super encouraging to know that I can compete and do well.
“I just feel like I’m taking steps in the right direction. I took a giant step at Wimbledon. But my journey has just begun. Just have to keep going.”
And Kerber was generous in her acknowledgement.
“I knew I had to play my best tennis against a champion like Serena, and it is always an honour to share a court with her… You are such an inspiration for everybody, all of us. It’s amazing and I’m sure you will have your next Grand Slam soon.”
But the new champion then reflected on how the difficult times have perhaps helped her rise back to victory.
“I’m 30 already. I think I had so many experiences over the years. I know the feeling of going out there in the semi-finals, playing the finals… I think that helps me also to being a little bit relaxed today… You have to go through all the things, the good things, the bad things, and then you need to learn. If you do it one, two, three times, you are getting better.”
And Kerber has been true to her word. She IS getting better—tactically, athletically, mentally. There is surely more to come, and more contests between two women who clearly like each other very much.