This Wimbledon needed a major shock and it got one. It needed a great match and it got one. Now, could a fairytale come true and could the 181st seed in the world somehow battle through to the women’s final?
Next to Roger Federer’s demise and the brilliance of Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin del Potro, Serena Williams reaching the last Saturday doesn’t sound like such a big deal. But after the birth of her daughter and playing only her 13th match back, 181st was where she began the tournament.
And the final is where she’ll be, taking on one German, Angelique Kerber, after disposing of another, Julia Goerges, and her very good friend, the Duchess of Sussex, will be cheering her on. Next time Wimbledon wants to set this incredible champion a tough task it’s going to have to get her to play with one hand tied behind her back, or pulling one of the All England Club buggies which waters the petunias.
Williams, Wimbledon royalty, will equal Margaret Court’s 24 Slam singles crowns if she wins. Goerges, meanwhile, was most looking forward to sleeping in her own bed – oh, and a kebab. But this contrast in outcomes doesn’t tell the story of the match. “I’ve never seen her play this well,” Williams said of her opponent, who she beat 6-2, 6-4. “I definitely had to bring my A-game.”
Surely, though, lifting the prize tomorrow will be her greatest achievement, the toughest of the lot. Every time she speaks the 36-year-old Williams tells us a bit more about how difficult and even dangerous the birth had been.
“I lost count after four surgeries – every day I needed another,” she said yesterday. “I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox.” But, beamingly proud mom that she is, she does not use words like “tough” with daughter Olympia around.
“For me, I only see joy,” she said. “Maybe this tournament is the toughest but it’s by far the best.”
Williams was Wonder Woman yesterday without the costume. The last time she played Goerges, in the French Open at the start of her return to the Slams, she was wearing a sleek black catsuit which made her feel “like a superhero”. That must have been intimidating for the 29-year-old, but not half as daunting as facing a serve seriously cranked up since then, and Williams’ static movement replaced by panther-like prowls.
Goerges didn’t play badly. She came into the match having hit more winners – 199 – than any other woman. Her clinching set in the quarter-finals had been the best by anyone in the ladies’ draw, scorching groundstrokes off both sides. She hit 19 more winners yesterday but then she was playing Williams and that wasn’t enough.
Early on Williams hit a shot which made Goerges stagger backwards, but she recovered with some searingly flat forehands. The forehand was definitely a weapon, it threatened on Williams’ serve, but Goerges had to find the absolute corners of the court. Anything less and Williams would thrash back a return with a fearsome roar. And when Williams broke serve in the sixth game Goerges needed a new racket.
Williams then broke Goerges again to take the first set and one return in particular stunned an audience well used to her astonishing hits. It travelled so low over the net that it had surely gone through it.
The Centre Court was getting their first glimpse of Goerges who’d never been past the first round five years in a row and they liked her panache. The crowd were willing her to get back into the match and there was always a collective sigh when her determined scampering ended in disappointment. The second set began like the first. No breaks under the sixth game when Williams was again just too strong, too accurate. Goerges had to move her celebrated opponent around but couldn’t wrest control of the game. Two shots in particular looked to have broken her. The first a pick-up from far out wide, a place Williams hadn’t been since before motherhood. The second a lob to the baseline which was all that could be contrived, but being Williams it was more than enough, opening up the court for a winner.
To the crowd’s delight Goerges broke back. She was still hitting shots which would have obliterated anyone else. But the sheer effort required drained her and she couldn’t hold on any longer. “I enjoyed the game a lot and I’m proud of the way I played,” Goerges said. “The difference was she knows how to win the match and I had a lack of experience.”
Williams actually moved up the rankings to 51 yesterday regardless of the outcome. If the Duchess of Sussex sees her win tomorrow she’ll rise to 19th. “We’ve always had a wonderful friendship,” Williams added. “For a couple of years she’s been out to Wimbledon to support me; now she’s supporting me in a different role. But our friendship is still exactly the same. We’ve always supported each other, just been there for each other.”