As the women’s event moved into the semi-final stages, Angelique Kerber was officially the highest ranked player left in the draw and seeded No 11. But clearly Serena Williams had other ideas.
She took yet another step up in form and class in her 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Camila Giorgi yesterday to reach her 11th Wimbledon semi-final and her 35th grand slam semi-final in all. The win also hauled her ranking up from No 181 in the world to No 51. Was she pleased? Not really.
“Well, it’s better than 181 or whatever I am,” she said with a dismissive shrug. “Got to keep trekking on, though. Serena Williams, 51. Meh. It doesn’t have that same ring to it. The ‘1’ part does, but not the ‘5’. Keep going.”
No matter where she is ranked, Williams always thinks of herself as the No 1 and yesterday she played like it, too. With each round, the various parts of her game are gradually coming together. Her movement is better now than at the start of the tournament, her serve has improved with every set but against Giorgi, the slight but fiercely aggressive Italian, Williams’s brain clicked neatly into gear. And that could be the sign that she is now ready to take the title home with her.
Giorgi looked and played like a women who simply did not care who was on the other side of the net. That she was facing possibly the greatest female athlete on the planet just did not faze her. She forced Williams back, she would not let her attack and she won the first set.
So Williams increased the speed on her serve, she stepped forward to be more aggressive from the baseline and she began to leather her ground strokes. In the early rounds, she had dug herself out of any difficulty by sheer will power; yesterday she did it with muscle and nous.
“I’m OK; I feel good,” she said. “I feel like I did better today – I had to – but this is only my fourth tournament back so I don’t feel pressure, I don’t feel I have to win this, I have to lose this; I’m just here just to be here and to prove that I’m back. I feel like I’m back – I still have a long way to go to be where I was.”
That is an ominous warning for anyone who may stand in between her and the trophy this week. If she feels she is so far away from her best and yet can play so well, heaven help any opponent.
Should she reach the final – and few would bet against her getting there – she could face Jelena Ostapenko, the fearless and free-hitting Latvian. She recovered from a slow start to pummel Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 6-4.
Emotional, powerful and uninhibited, she can hit winners to a band playing (33 to Cibulkova’s meagre six) but she can also spray errors all over the court (28 to her opponent’s 13). But it is that free flowing play that won her the French Open last year – the first title she had ever won on the main tour.
Improving her footwork with ball room dancing sessions twice a week when she is at home – the samba is a particular favourite – she does not bother with the niceties of constructing a point with care and consideration: if she sees a chance, she just welts it. And her coach, Glen Schaap, encourages her.
“Actually he wants me to go for the shots,” she said. “He doesn’t mind if I miss the shot, but I go for the next one. When I have opportunity in my matches, I’m just going for the winners.”
That might not be enough to win her the Wimbledon title but it may be enough to put the fear of God into Kerber in the next round.