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Which version of Serena Williams is headed to the Wimbledon final?
Indian Express Sports
Fri, 12 Jul 2019 08:18

Which version of Serena Williams is headed to the Wimbledon final?

Indian Express Sports
Fri, 12 Jul 2019 08:18

Related News Serena Williams celebrates winning her quarter final match.

Which version of Serena Williams is headed to the Wimbledon final?
(Source: Reuters)By Christopher Clarey
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Think about No. 24? Try to block out No. 24? Play it cool? Play with fire?

So many questions for Serena Williams as she prepares to face another proven champion and great defender in a Wimbledon singles final.

Simona Halep, of course, will have her part to play on Saturday, when she goes up against Williams for the first time on Centre Court. Halep, a former No. 1 and the 2018 French Open champion, appears to be back in form, as she demonstrated with a decisive 6-1, 6-3 victory over Elina Svitolina in the semifinals on Thursday.
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But the decisive factor in the final is likely to be Williams’ state of mind with Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles back in her sights.

On grass, with her thoughts and shots in order, Williams is an irresistible force even at age 37, as she showed Thursday in her 6-1, 6-2 semifinal demolition of the fired-up but underpowered Barbora Strycova.

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But Williams, as recent history shows, is vulnerable when she lets her greater goals and ferocious appetite for another title drown out her ability to focus on the task at hand.

“I definitely feel like I play better when I’m calm,” Williams said after the semifinal win. “But it’s definitely an effort. Not getting overpumped but at the same time not getting underwound. I have to be in that right space.”
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She was not there during last year’s Wimbledon final, when she lost to Angelique Kerber in straight sets. She was not there during last year’s U.S. Open final, when she was beaten in straight sets by Naomi Osaka and lost her cool and her way in a dispute with the chair umpire after he issued a warning about signals from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, in the stands.

Kerber and Osaka, it should be said, played brilliantly in the spotlight, withstanding Williams’ power and presence. But Williams, with No. 24 in reach, was neither as focused nor as precise in those finals as she had been on her way to them.

Can she maintain her level this time and hold up better against Halep, a first-time Wimbledon finalist who has lost to Williams in 9 out of their 10 matches?

“Of course, it’s a Grand Slam final so it will be emotional, and Serena will want it incredibly bad, 24 or not 24,” Mouratoglou said Thursday. “When you think about 24, you think about winning, but you can’t think about winning. You have to think about tactically, the ball comes, where do I play? Why? This is what you focus on. It’s the only way to forget what you should forget about.”
Court’s record, established from 1960 to 1973, should be put into context. Some of the four Grand Slam tournaments were not always as significant as they are today. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, often skipped the Australian Open, and sometimes the French Open, early in their careers.

Navratilova, who like Williams played singles deep into her 30s, said that she had never focused on Court’s record and that she had rarely been asked about her Grand Slam title total.

“When I was playing and Chris and Billie Jean King were playing, majors were not the end-all, be-all,” Navratilova said. “Chris and I would both have won more if we’d gone after that and played fewer tournaments year round and focused on the majors. We supported the tour. It was just a different schedule, different time.”

Williams has positioned herself to equal Court’s record by excelling under the greatest pressure. She won 21 of her first 25 Grand Slam singles finals. But she has not been as reliable a closer in recent years, losing four of her last six Slam finals.

Williams said she spent part of her morning on Thursday thinking back to 2002, when she beat her older sister Venus to win the first of her seven Wimbledon singles titles.

“I was trying to tap into those emotions; I was really calm,” Serena Williams said. “I just remember, like, how it’s so, so different when you’re younger as opposed to now. Now I just need to, like I said the other day, relax and do what I can do.”

Williams has not won a title of any kind since her return to the circuit in March 2018, six months after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia Ohanian.

Olympia was in the players’ lounge on Thursday, a source of delight and meaning for her mother. When Williams returned to tennis last year, she often spoke of her desire to be a role model for working mothers. But perhaps carrying that torch so publicly weighed on Williams in London and New York.

Williams’ focus now seems to be the tennis, though she remains a deeply symbolic figure for many fans.

“I definitely wouldn’t have predicted it a month ago, but here I am,” Williams said. “I’m playing for everyone that didn’t predict it a month ago.”

Williams laughed, but she has had to push to hit the high notes again. She has played little in this injury-filled season, and she looked slow and far from her best in a third-round defeat by Sofia Kenin at the French Open last month.

Williams has bounced back quickly before to win at Wimbledon after a poor French Open, most recently in 2012. And after receiving treatment on her ailing left knee in France, she said, she had been able to train and play without pain at the All England Club, even adding mixed doubles to her schedule.

Although she and Andy Murray, her all-star partner, lost in the third round on Wednesday, the extra duty seemed to pay dividends against Strycova, a feisty and resourceful Czech playing in her first Grand Slam singles final at age 33.

“I promise you, when I hit a volley, I was like: ‘Would I have made that if I didn’t play doubles? I don’t think so,’” Williams said. “I kept telling you guys I thought the doubles would help me. I really think it did.”

She won 13 of 16 points at net on Thursday and won several duels in the forecourt with Strycova, who has excellent touch and has long been one of the best doubles players in the world.
Serena Williams and Andy Murray during their third round doubles match (Source: Reuters)But Williams also did much more in the match, one of her most impressive of the season. She served and returned well and also struck her groundstrokes cleanly, hitting winners off balls of widely varying heights — flicking topspin forehands off Strycova’s skidding slices or smacking flat and overwhelming forehands off higher-bouncing shots, even those that landed deep.

“I think Serena’s in full flight,” Navratilova said. “Today she played as well as I’ve seen her play. Her serve is the biggest weapon in the game ever, and she backs it up beautifully.”

Strycova’s cause was not helped when she aggravated a strained buttock muscle in the opening game. She needed her full bag of tennis tricks to have any chance of making this semifinal into a true contest. She is now 0-4 against Williams in singles without winning a set.

“I think it was her best match of all here,” Strycova said, referring to Williams’ performance at Wimbledon this year. “If she will play like this in the final, it’s going to be very hard for Simona. But Simona has also her weapons. You know, every day is different.”

Williams, despite her lopsided record against Halep, knows that too well. Managing the emotions and overwhelming the opposition on a Thursday are no guarantee for a repeat performance on Saturday, particularly at this stage of her career.
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“I don’t know if it’s a problem that comes with age,” Mouratoglou said. “I think if you ask Serena if she can win a Grand Slam at age 45, inside of herself she believes she can. She really doesn’t put limits on herself, so she’s not saying, ‘Oh boy, I better win this because I’m running out of time.’ But she does know that if she wins she will equal the all-time record, and that’s where the pressure comes from.”