Wimbledon 2018: Serena Williams to chase record-matching 24th Major against Angelique Kerber
Serena Williams beats Julia Gorges in straight sets to set up a Wimbledon final against Angelique Kerber
She may not have been on the courts of Wimbledon for two years, but that had not stopped the seven-time champion Serena Williams picking up just where she left off.
Back in 2015, she won her fourth straight Major here, then made the semis in New York, the final in Australia and Roland Garros, before defending her title at Wimbledon. The superb run continued, with the semis in New York and her 23rd Major in Australia at the start of last year—when she was two months pregnant.
Cue maternity leave, giving birth last September, and timing her return to form just at the right stage in the schedule to hit Wimbledon’s grass.
Even as recently as a month ago, with just seven matches to her name, and having withdrawn after her third match at Roland Garros with a pectoral strain, many would not have given Williams a strong chance of making the final here this year.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—and it is worth remembering that Williams will be 37 in September, and became the oldest No1 little more than a year ago.
Rapidly, then, she did become the favourite to do what had seemed impossible: return to Wimbledon, win more matches than she had played in the last 18 months, and contest the title. And all that despite having a ranking of 181.
She had, it is true, been given a boost by the All England Club, a discretionary seeding of 25, and she had seen all the former champions and top 10 seeds fall by the wayside. But she could only play who was in front of her, and the next woman, though a seed, may not have felt overly optimistic.
Julia Goerges, seeded 13, had already done her fair share of beating seeds, though none higher than herself. And she had worked hard to get further at Wimbledon, or any other Major, than she had managed before.
Until this her 42nd Major appearance, she had reached the fourth-round at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open, but only as far as the third round at Wimbledon. Now she was in the semi-finals, but she played not only Williams’ formidable record but a 0-3 head-to-head, most recently at Roland Garros just weeks ago. The German had yet to win a set.
Goerges is a bold player who hits big and serves big, and she led the women’s stats for aces—more even than Williams. But she came under pressure straight away, and had to fight off break point in the second game.
The two stayed on level terms for five games, and then Williams got her break. She smelled blood, and went after the Georges serve again, thumped a backhand winner and brought up three set points. A long baseline exchange, and the German hit wide for the break. Williams led, 6-2, after half an hour.
Goerges was not deterred at the start of a tough second set, held to love, only to see Williams make two love holds and then win an athletic exchange of lob, drop and sizzling pass for a break point. Goerges clipped the net and the break was complete, 2-4.
It was not the end of the story: Goerges, with the encouragement of a vocal crowd, played a no-holds-barred game to earn her first break chances of the match, 0-40, and at the last attempt, got her reward to get back on level terms.
However, Williams is never more dangerous than when her pride is pricked, and so it was. A double fault did not help the German’s cause, and a flurry of errors conceded the conclusive break, 6-4, after a just an hour and 10 minutes.
Centre Court rose as one to cheer this most remarkable of athletes. She has always been hugely respected here, but with every passing year, and every adversity overcome to return to the top, she is loved too.
Hard to believe that, 10 months on from a difficult birth and post-partum health scares, she has worked back to this level of tennis and fitness.
She is the lowest ranked player even to reach the Wimbledon semis, let alone the final, and she has only lost one of her 11 last-four matches here, to sister Venus in 2000.
She is now on a run of 20 straight match-wins here, dating back to the start of her 2015 campaign, and into her 10th Wimbledon final 20 years after she made her first appearance at the All England Club.
And in the broader picture, Williams could equal the all-time record for Major singles titles if she lifts her eighth trophy here on Saturday. It will make 24, a tally achieved only by Margaret Court across the pre- and post-Open era. But even if Williams does not win this weekend, it is hard to see her failing to equal or exceed that old record very soon.
She put it thus in the aftermath of her win:
“It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel because I literally didn’t think I’d do this well in my fourth tournament back.
“This was not inevitable for me… I remember I could not even walk to my mailbox… so I’m taking everything as it is and enjoying every moment.”
It will be with a sense of dejà vu that she takes to court for the final, however. When she won here in 2016, she did so by beating Angelique Kerber in the German’s only previous final here. Williams admitted that she had been watching Kerber’s progress through the draw, and was impressed—as she should be. The fellow 30-something has recovered her form well after a difficult 2017 to play some of her best tennis since that impressive 2016, when she won her two Major titles.
That year, Kerber had already beaten Williams to the title at the Australian Open, so this this third Major final in a row had some history. Indeed, it could turn out to be one of the best finals here in recent years. One not to be missed.