July 11, 2019
Serena Williams is just one step away from a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam after easing her way past Barbora Strycova 6-1, 6-2.
But she won’t find it so easy to make history in the showpiece against pocket rocket Simona Halep.
Finally the Romanian former world number one is fulfilling her potential on grass.
And when she realised she had made her first Wimbledon final, she said: ‘This is one of the best moments of my life.’
Halep’s task now will be to rise to the enormity of the occasion on Saturday.
As a former Roland Garros champion, she should be able to handle the pressure.
But this is Serena. At Wimbledon. And Williams could do no wrong against Strycova.
A drive-volley from Serena and a cross-court forehand winner sealed the key first-set break as she went 3-1 ahead.
Then she consolidated with ease, battering the Czech into submission with a relentless array of shots.
Deft volleys at the net, punishing passes, Serena had the lot. Though Strycova battled hard and had some success at the start of the second set, Williams created daylight at 4-2.
From that moment the result was never in doubt.
But Halep will put her under a different kind of pressure.
Williams will need to stay cool, even when she knows how much historic value this glittering final has.
To equal Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams at the spiritual home of tennis would be just perfect for the world’s best ever player.
Her dangerous rival will have other ideas after that 6-1, 6-3 dismissal of Elina Svitolina in front of celebrities such as David Beckham.
Halep may have needed six set points to win the first, but it was really never in doubt.
Svitolina struggled to hold serve at all and Simona was far too hot to handle.
The Ukrainian did settle at the start of the second. She managed to hold serve a couple of times to give herself some kind of foothold in the match.
But it was Halep who looked the hungrier of the too and she wasn’t going to allow the underdog to settle for long.
In the blink of an eye, Simona had stepped up a gear. And when a desperate Elina fired wide under pressure, her challenge was over.
She will learn from this semi-final, no doubt. And she will not let the next one pass her by so easily, if she gets the chance again.
The Romanian has never looked good on grass. Until this year.
Maybe it was the relaxed nature of her build-up to the tournament.
Work hard, play hard was her philosophy after being knocked out at the quarter-final stage of Roland Garros.
High-speed jet-skiing didn’t seem to worry her team. Halep needed to let off steam and it worked. She came to Wimbledon mentally refreshed.
Can Simona make her own history, instead of playing a supporting role as Serena makes hers?
She is capable of doing so. Particularly if Williams tightens again, on the brink of that historic achievement.
Serena must forget the record books, ignore the historic weight of the occasion, and play the final on its own merits. Use her superior experience, never let Halep settle.
After her joyful mixed doubles partnership with Andy Murray, most of the Wimbledon crowd will surely support Serena on Centre Court.
But they will admire little Halep’s fighting spirit too, if she starts to show her customary fire.
This should be a thriller of a final. We can’t wait.
Featured Image ©PPP