It took three tournaments to pass her by before Serena Williams made history at Wimbledon as she finally won her twenty-second Grand Slam title to match Steffi Graf’s record. It took one hour, twenty-one minutes for her to see off a classy Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3, in a highly entertaining game of tennis in front of a packed Centre Court. On the winning point, a cheeky volley over the net, she fell backwards on to the grass.
But Williams’s quest to match Graf’s record began last autumn. It all started at the US Open in September, where she was knocked out by Roberta Vinci in the semi-final. Then, at the Australian Open at the turn of the year, Kerber beat her in a thrilling three-set battle. And finally, at the French Open last month, Garbina Muguruza dispatched her in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4. So, how does it feel now? Relief, elation, joy?
“It’s a great relief, but more than anything it was a really good, exciting win for me,” she said. “It was a great final, Angelique played really well. We had a lot of long, tough points. Every single point I worked for and nothing was given to me. For one of the first times it felt good because I knew I was serving well. I felt at home with the crowd and felt really comfortable.
“I’ve definitely had some sleepless nights, coming so close. Feeling it but not being able to quite get there. My goal is always to win a Slam a year, so it was getting down to the pressure. I knew coming into this one I just needed to keep calm, be confident, and play the tennis I’ve been playing for well over a decade.
“I was definitely so excited to win. That’s always a great feeling. But maybe even more so is the excitement of getting 22, after trying so hard to get there and finally being able to make history. It’s pretty awesome.”
After the match, John McEnroe said her serve was the single deadliest weapon in tennis, in the men’s or women’s game. And the stats speak for themselves. She fired 13 aces alone against Kerber (74 in the entire tournament), winning 88 per cent of points on her first serve. Her fastest serve was 124 mph while her average first-serve speed was 109 mph. In front of friends Jay-Z and Beyonce, the now seven-time Wimbledon champion notched up 39 winners. And though Kerber hadn’t previously dropped a set in the tournament, Williams proved she was truly peerless this year.
Serena had impressed off court as well throughout the tournament, with her fiery defence of equal pay and women’s tennis, before declaring she’d like be known as “one of the greatest athletes of all time” rather than simply one of the greatest female athletes. Her comment drew admiration from around the world as her legions of fans took to social media to show their love.
When asked how it felt to inspire millions of girls around the world, she said: “That’s why I ultimately feel like I’m here. I’ve been given such a great opportunity, I’ve been given so much talent. I’ve been put in a position where I can inspire females, ladies, and men as well. Anyone, any kid out there who wants to be something, or has dreams. I’ve had great dreams. I didn’t come from any money or anything, but I did have a dream and I did have hope. That’s really all you need.
“We shouldn’t put any female athlete in a box. Why do we have to be limited to just female athletes? We all work really hard. We just want to be known as athletes. [When I lose] I always said, and I’ll say it again, for me the success of another female in particular should be the inspiration to the next. These ladies inspire me to want to do better.”
Williams also spoke out about the recent violence and racial tension in the United States, a topic which was clearly painful and personal for her. “I have nephews and I’m thinking, ‘Do I have to call them and tell them, “Don’t go outside. If you get in your car, it might be the last time I see you?”’ That is something that is of great concern because it will be devastating. They’re very good kids. I don’t think that the answer is to continue to shoot our young black men.
“Violence is not the answer to solving it. The shooting in Dallas was very sad. No one deserves to lose their life, it doesn’t matter what colour they are or where they’re from. We’re all human. We have to learn to love one another. It’s going to take a lot of education and a lot of work to get to that point. The entire situation is extremely sad, especially for someone like me. It’s something that is very painful to see happening.”
Despite the pain of watching horrendous events unfold at home, shortly after her Championship press conference, Williams added the doubles title with sister Venus to her historic singles victory.
While she is enjoying the moment, Olympic gold and the chance to defend her title are in sight. And what of Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles, or Martina Navratilova’s nine Wimbledon victories? Williams is having none of it.
“One thing I learnt about last year is to enjoy the moment. I’m definitely going to enjoy this. You know, I have the Olympics coming up. I’ll take it one at a time,” she laughed. “I learnt not to get involved in these debates and conversations. I just play tennis. That’s what I do best.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.