Thank you to Bill Simons Inside Tennis Magazine for contributing
There are celebrity moms – and then there’s Serena. Billboards on California freeways proclaimed she’s the GMOAT – “the greatest mother of all time.” Sue Barker said she’s “The world’s most famous sporting mom.”
There are cross-over celebrities who bring it on athletic fields and then light it on athletic fields. These days Serena has been doing Royal weddings. She watches British polo with her gal pal Meghan Markle. And then Meghan, now the Duchess of Sussex, returned the favor and watched Serena today from the Royal Box.
American politicians talk about American exceptionalism – we’re the best. In sports there’s Serena exceptionalism. She’s one of a kind.
Most players tell us they want to get the most out of their abilities, to live up to their potential. Not Serena. She always wants more. She tells us she wants to be superwoman. And she’s doing a pretty good job, don’t you think?
Just eighteen months ago, she won the Australian Open while pregnant. She was radiant at her star-studded New Orleans wedding and then went through an incredibly difficult, life-threatening emergency after child birth. She said her knowledge of medicine saved her life.
She was front and center at the royal wedding of Meghan Markle, and yes, despite her ranking of 451, the greatest player of this or perhaps any era, came back to play the game she loved. “The whole tennis world is in absolute awe of her,” said Brit Annabel Croft. “Her level is extraordinary.” Incredibly, Serena lost only one set on her road to the Wimbledon final. But even Superman must be wary of kryptonite. Today the left-handed German Anqelique Kerber – swift, athletic, confident and unafraid – was Superwoman’s kryptonite.
The No. 10-ranked Kerber was the only top ten player left in the draw and one of just a handful of players to have ever beaten Serena in a Slam final. Now No. 181, Williams was the lowest ranked player to ever reach a Wimbledon final.
Maybe that’s why she seemed a bit more relaxed than usual before the final. “This is cool,” she told Clare Bolland, “I’m back again [to a Wimbledon final.] Olympia helps me get ready. She sits in a sink and hands me my make up brush.”
As for her daughter playing pro tennis, Serena joked, “She has to be sure that I’m still not playing. I still might be the there and could beat her.” Then she poignantly confided, “Everything I do is to give my daughter the confidence as a woman to grow up to be the best person she can be.”
Today Kerber was at her impressive best. Right out of the gate, the 30-year old shined in golden light. With speed, anticipation and depth of stroke she broke Serena in the first game. Williams broke back. But then in the sixth game, the greatest server in women’s tennis history double-faulted twice, was off-balance and was broken.
Serena was off, almost stunned. She hadn’t faced a top ten player here. She hit one volley pitty-pat style. Kerber defended like an elegant gazelle. Yes, Angelique was a frustrating wall – but she was much more than a defensive savant. She pushed Serena with groundies. Her pressure was relentless. She took chances, and went for winners. At times, Serena, the seven-time Wimbledon champion who’d been hoping to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams, seemed at a loss.
Kerber’s tool box included hard-to-read groundies, a vastly improved serve and an unwavering focus. She didn’t even look at the Royal Box. All the while, the tennis world was waiting for a famous “Serena Surge” from the infamously slow-starting legend, whom Pat Cash called “the most mentally resilient player in history.’
But Kerber – who in 2016 had beaten Williams in the Australian Open final, but lost to her here that year, not only absorbed the pace of Williams’s strokes, she absorbed the pressure of going for the crown she’d always dreamed of.
For the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex – Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle – it might have been a girls’ day out. For Serena, it was too many tennis balls out. She overhit volleys, repeatedly missing the open court. Yet Serena’s comeback this year has been an almost mind-boggling triumph. Even Serena was surprised. It’s inspired mothers and women and people around the globe. It ended in a loss that Billie Jean King said will “incentify” her to get better and more fit. The US Open will be interesting.
Here at Wimbledon this year, the men’s draw gave us perhaps the most scintillating four consecutive matches ever – Anderson over Federer, Nadal over Del Potro, Djokovic over Nadal, and Anderson over Isner. But Kerber’s sixty-five minute, 6-3, 6-3 win was straightforward – almost clinical.
Two weeks ago, Angie was an out-of-the-picture long shot. Now this woman, who still remembers her first Wimbledon, watching Steffi Graf win, was the first German winner since Steffi in ’96. “She trusted the process, she had her game, she trusted her legs,” noted Martina Navratilova.
Kerber, who has now won Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open, joked about winning the French Open. “That’s a ways away,” she quipped. But it’s no joke that today she downed Superwoman. Kerber beamed as she told the media, “it’s the journey that’s so special. It’s a beautiful feeling. Winning Wimbledon is forever