WHEN Serena Williams, at 37, steps out on Centre Court today, in her 11th Wimbledon final against 27-year-old Simona Halep, she will be the oldest woman to compete in a grand slam final; and on her shoulders will be that widely spoken of burden of a record-equalling 24th major title win, which would take her level with the Australian, Margaret Court.
After winning her milestone 23rd Grand Slam title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over her sister, Venus at the Australian Open in 2017, Serena said, “I’ve been chasing it for a really long time. When it got on my radar, I knew I had an opportunity to get there, and I’m here. I’m here.”
The chase continues today; but she continues to play it down. “It’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25. It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career.”
With seven Wimbledon titles in the bag, an eight one today, might just be the one she will cherish most.
There is something about Wimbledon and Australian Open for Serena Williams. With her 2016 Wimbledon triumph, she equaled Stefanie Graf’s record, set at the 1999 French Open. At the 2017 Australian Open, she bettered that milestone; she has seven titles each from Wimbledon and Australian Open.
Will she scale the hurdle of Margaret Court’s record, at the second time of asking, at Wimbledon?
The quest had weighed heavily on Williams since the 2017 Australian Open and she has been waiting for it. It was on display in her defeats in last year’s Wimbledon and more so in the US Open finals, where she lost her temper in her defeat to Naomi Osaka.
And this Wimbledon will be remembered by how she missed the chance, or how she took it.
The odds at overcoming Halep
But then she will have the Romanian World No. 7, Halep to contend with. Halep beat Elina Svitolina in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, in 1 hour 13 minutes, to reach her first Wimbledon final.
Relishing the prospect of facing Serena Williams, the four-time grand slam finalist and winner of the 2018 French Open said: “I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing. But now I feel stronger, mentally, facing her. We will see what is going to happen. It’s just a big challenge for me.”
No-one outgrinds Halep, and certainly not when she is in her first Wimbledon final.
World number 10, but seeded 11 at Wimbledon, Serena is a strong favourite. She leads 9-1 in her head to head with Halep. But that won’t count for much if the jitters of the burden of 24 doesn’t become motivational as she saw in her match against Naomi in the US Open or against Kerber whom she leads 6-3 on their head to head.
Serena pays due respect to her opponent today, who has dropped just one set on her way to the final. Said Williams: “She is tough, she played unbelievable today (semifinal). We always have tough matches but I look forward to it.”
In her semifinal defeat, Strycova, was full of admiration for Serena. She said: “I think it was her best match of all here. She was serving amazing. She was playing very deep, so I really couldn’t play the way I wanted to do.
“If she will play like this in the final, it’s going to be very hard for Simona. But Simona has also her weapons. Every day is different.”