Serena Williams’ tournament began with her being quizzed about drinking games at the wedding of her good friend Meghan Markle and is ending with her being invited to consider herself “Wimbledon royalty”.
“Oh wow, I never thought about that,” she said. “That’s pretty cool but honestly I’m just me. I don’t feel any different – I know that sounds weird but I don’t. That’s an attitude I want to keep, something I want to teach my daughter – always just have that humility. We’re all human.”
Well, is she? Is it really human to stand on the brink of a 24th Grand Slam title, equalling Margaret Court’s record? And is it really human to be going for your eighth singles crown – only Martina Navratilova walked away with nine – just ten months after the birth of that child you’re trying to keep humble?
When Williams rocked up in SW19 a fortnight ago there was a feeling that the tournament would be a significant part of her rehab, building towards Slams in the near future. Few were predicting she’d be in today’s Centre Court showpiece, where she plays Germany’s Angelique Kerber, and so it was okay to be jokey with her and ask about the alleged “beer pong” at Markle and Prince Harry’s nuptials.
In her early matches, Williams barely moved, which must have encouraged belief among her rivals that this would be a Slam too soon. Looking back at those encounters with the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious she was staying fairly rooted to the baseline because she could; that only Williams could do this. And re-examining the matches in sequence it’s apparent she was taking more and more steps each time. It was hardly sprinting but then, with Williams, when did it ever need to be that?
She was asked about footwork the other day – whose had improved more over those ten months of momhood – baby Olympia’s or hers? “That’s actually a really good question,” she laughed. “I’m going to say hers because she’s moving those feet now. She’s walking, maybe a little too fast. She’s trying to go faster than her body will allow. She kicks her little feet really hard. I’ve been learning a lot from her.”
All those other seeds who might have fancied themselves this year quickly tumbled out of the tournament. Asked about the carnage, Williams was keen to point out that Kerber was still there, and that even though the top ten had gone from Wimbledon she still had a ten placing in the world rankings.
And so they meet again. It was Williams-Kerber in the last final before the American took time out and a straight-sets victory for her. “She’s been playing really well,” she said of Kerber, “when a lot of people haven’t been. Grass is her best surface, she plays so well here and she know how to play on this court. I know she wants to go out there and win.”
That’s as maybe but it’s the history-making Kerber must overcome, and she isn’t fooled by that stuff about baby steps. “When I’m on the other side of the net from her I see a champion, that’s for sure,” Kerber said. The trick is not to be intimidated, but to use her rival’s awesome power as inspiration. “She is always pushing you to the limits to play your best tennis. That is the only chance to beat her.”
Easier said than done. And something else for Kerber to consider, to make her task even harder: Williams doesn’t drink beer. Those stories from the wedding of the friend who’s now called the Duchess of Sussex were “completely untrue,’ she insisted.