The walk may have been ponderous but the backhand whizzed over the net, the forehand not far behind it. The scoreboard racked up a big lead over Evgeniya Rodina in no time, and 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour.
Afterwards, the chat was about tiny steps – not Williams’ but the first ones taken by her daughter Olympia, which Mommy missed in pursuit of her 24th Slam. She tweeted her sadness about this and was grateful for messages of reassurance from parents who’ve not been there for big events.
“So many people – basically everyone – was like, ‘Oh so did I, it’s no big deal,’” said Williams. “I was like, wow, I didn’t know that was so common. They told me not to be so hard on myself and I instantly felt better that all the moms and dads said it was totally normal.”
Williams didn’t miss much in what was billed as the Battle of the Mums, she and Rodina being the last two remaining in a competition which started with six. They were meeting for the first time and Rodina might have wished she could have delayed the encounter. Mind you, that would have allowed Williams, whose daughter was born last September, to get even closer to her supreme best.
“There’s a lot to improve on,” Williams insisted. The scoreline suggested an easy match; not so. “This is only my fourth tournament back and I would hope there’s a lot to continue to improve on.” Then she added, somewhat ominously: “There’s so much further I want to go to get back to where I was, and hopefully go beyond that.”
At 5-2 in the first set Williams had a chance to break her opponent for the third time in the set. When the drop-shot failed, she stood for a few seconds and had a wee word with herself. Rodina, pictured, grabbed a couple of points on the Williams serve by moving her around the court, though ultimately to no avail. Advice for the remaining challengers: if you don’t do this, and don’t do it more often than her latest conquest, then you will be a goner, too.
In the second set Rodina was broken right away and the sight of her bent double staring at the grass and wondering how she was ever going to get past the immovable object on the other side of the net was becoming a motif of the match. But, facing the Williams serve at 1-3 down she had a chance. And with a rasping forehand she took it. The crowd were roused. Were they about to see a contest after all?
Next game Williams broke Rodina’s serve to love. She smashed one overhead so hard into the turf it bounced right over the TV cameras, almost landing in the Royal Box. She settled back in her chair to prepare for the big finish, a ballboy scurrying across with the rolled-up towel he kept in an icebox for her, and she placed it round her neck. But Williams barely got hot yesterday and certainly not bothered.
Back to Momhood, did she want Olympia to follow in her small stride? “No, I hope she doesn’t play tennis … unless she wants to, then I’m going to help her. But I’m not sure I’d be a great coach. I don’t want her to have pressure from what I did, and being asked: ‘Are you going to be as good as your mom?’ It’ll be interesting to see what she gravitates to. Ice skating could be fun.”
Or soccer? Williams is loving the World Cup and is being swept up in the England euphoria. The prospect of the tournament finishing “just gets me depressed … what is going to happen to my life after that?” Yet another Wimbledon title might prove some consolation.