July 9, 2016
At the end of a glorious final, full of high-quality stroke play and stunning athleticism, Serena Williams rewrote the record books and claimed her place in history.
With a simple volley, she ended her agonising wait and collapsed as though she had fainted. How precious this seventh Wimbledon singles title was to her.
She had suffered a year of disappointment and three major disappointments, from New York to Melbourne and then Paris. Now she is queen of Wimbledon once more.
No woman in the open era has ever won more Grand Slam singles titles than Serena’s 22, not even the great Steffi Graf, with whom she now shares top spot.
Could she now go on to reach 25 and eclipse even the great Margaret Court? Maybe that question is for another day. What she has just achieved is already phenomenal.
Serena said: ‘It’s such a great feeling, thanks to God and my whole team. Angelique? I love playing her, she is such a great opponent and when we walk off court such a great person too.
‘It’s been incredibly difficult not to think about it (the record) but it makes victory even sweeter to know how hard I had to fight for it. To reach 22 is awesome, thank you guys. My sister Venus has inspired me so much to be who I am, thank you.’
How Serena deserved it, what a mesmerising match she played. Anyone who criticises women’s tennis should watch a video of this astonishing match, ended only by a performance of almost frightening brilliance.
But how Williams had to fight for it, not just today but all year round. And how wonderfully Angelique Kerber played; what a breathtaking occasion she helped to create with her superb spirit and clean hitting.
This wasn’t the vulnerable Kerber who had somehow reached the final, due of course to her determination, but also largely because her opponents had been even more out of sorts. This was the real deal.
At 5-5 and leading 15-30 on Serena’s serve, Kerber was right where she deserved to be after playing twice as well as she had done in the quarters or semis.
But Williams served her way out of trouble to hold. Then Serena raised her game and her level of aggression at just the right moment, and earned two set points as Kerber began to wobble under the intense pressure.
The German saved the first but not the second, as some thunderous Serena returns proved too much for her. It was the first time she hadn’t proved Serena’s equal, even though she had only narrowly survived break points in her very first service game.
When Kerber’s desperate effort landed the wrong side of the net, Williams let out a cry of relief and triumph, a reflection of how sorely she had been tested so far on the way to that 7-5.
It had been a marvellous first set. Williams had made fourteen unforced errors to Kerber’s six, yet she had landed four times as many winners too, showing she he not be unduly unnerved by standing on the brink of history this time around.
And yet Kerber had made her work so hard for so many of her points, you wondered whether Serena could keep up the pace, particularly if the match stretched to a third set.
Once again the plucky underdog began the second set refusing to concede any kind of inferiority to the legendary Williams.
Her victory over Serena in Australia had clearly given her self-belief and her hold to go 2-2 showed what an extraordinary athlete she is.
Williams knew she had to be at her very best to contain her adversary this time. She was also distracted at times by the swirling Centre Court wind, but stuck to her task admirably.
At 3-3 in the second, Angelique had her first break point. Two big aces and some colossal hitting during the key rally got Williams out of jail – and you wondered just how this title could be wrenched from her grasp. When you are winning 89 per cent of your first serve points, you become practically unstoppable.
A volley shoot-out at the net left Serena on her knees and the crowd on their feet, appreciative and transfixed. Still she fought on and achieved the key break moments later.
From that moment Williams simply wouldn’t be denied, and even Kerber seemed to know it. That second-set score line of 6-3 didn’t really do justice to Kerber, who had fought like a lion.
Kerber said later: ‘Congrats to Serena, you really deserved the title, you are a great champion and a great person. We played a great match and it was a great feeling to play on Centre Court. It’s just the best feeling I’ve had.’