She thus raises her record in major finals to 22-6. In toppling Kerber and reversing the result of her title round contest with the immensely popular German at the Australian Open, Williams put on a stellar serving performance that typified her play nearly all across the fortnight. To be sure, she struggled inordinately in her second round appointment against countrywoman Christina McHale. Her serve was off in that match and Serena was fortunate to survive a stern battle after McHale took a 2-0, 40-15 lead in the third and final set before Williams recouped to win 6-7 (7), 6-2, 6-4.
Thereafter, however, Williams settled into one of her extraordinarily rhythmic spells. She was broken only once in the third round by Annika Beck, twice by old rival Svetlana Kuznetsova in the round of 16, and never again. From the quarterfinals on, Williams was unshakable on her delivery, holding 28 consecutive times. Altogether, in her seven matches over the fortnight, the woman with the best serve in the history of her sport held in 63 of 69 service games. That was the determining factor in her victory this time around, and particularly in the final against Kerber, who not only tested Williams in the rallies but was fundamentally sounder and more consistent from the backcourt.
Here is how it all unfolded on a predominantly cloudy afternoon. Williams set a striking tone in the very first game, holding at 15 with an ace at 120 MPH down the T. Kerber was trying to feel her way into her first Centre Court final, and it wasn’t easy. She was down break point in the second game at 30-40, but she directed a forehand crosscourt with good depth and elicited a backhand error from Williams. Kerber advanced to game point with an inside out forehand winner, only to double fault tamely into the net. Serena garnered a second break point but Kerber sent a forehand down the line that was too much for Williams to handle on the run.
Williams was bearing down hard, and she earned a third break point, but Kerber halted her there with a second serve into the body that provoked an errant backhand return. After four deuces and the trio of break points against her, Kerber held on for 1-1. That was crucial, enabling the 28-year-old German to find her bearings and prevent Serena from establishing quick and perhaps lasting momentum. But Serena went right back to work, holding at 15 for 2-1 with another ace, this one delivered down the T at 119 MPH.
Yet Kerber was unswayed, and her ground game—particularly her rock solid forehand—was in sync. She held at 30 for 2-2 with first rate ball control before Williams answered by moving to 3-2 at the cost of only one point. Kerber, however, was very comfortable on serve and she held at 15 for 3-3. Serena was pushed in the seventh game despite serving two more aces on her way to 40-15. Kerber took the next point with a dazzling flat forehand winner down the line, and then measured a forehand crosscourt forehand impeccably to reach deuce, with Williams erring on a crosscourt backhand.
Here they were at 3-3, with the score locked at deuce, and Kerber sensing a rare chance to break. Williams had other notions, cracking a backhand winner down the line, and then angling another two-hander acutely to draw a forehand error from Kerber, who was pulled too far off the court. It was 4-3 for the top seed, and Serena reached 30-30 in the eighth game. Kerber responded to that moment with remarkable poise, releasing a pair of unstoppable first serves. She was intelligently mixing up the direction, going to the forehand side of her adversary to keep her honest. Now it was 4-4.
Williams was taken to deuce again in the ninth game, but her response to that mini-crisis was commendable. An ace at 114 MPH down the T gave the American game point, and then a crackling forehand down the line rushed the ever ready Kerber into a mistake.
Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, the beguiling German was not found wanting. She surged to 40-0 and held at 15 to make it 5-5. The crowd found this contest riveting. While they were fully appreciative of the supreme power and shotmaking skills of the American, their loudest roars were reserved for Kerber, who delighted the fans with her capacity to defend and her ingenuity in countering the brute force of Williams. In the eleventh game, Williams was down 15-30, but once more she rose ably to the challenge. A service winner out wide put Serena back at 30-30. She followed with another unanswerable first serve and closed out that game with an ace out wide at 117 MPH. After that sparkling display of grace under pressure, Williams moved to 6-5.
Kerber was surely hoping she could hold on in the twelfth game to set up a tie-break, but it was not to be. At 15-15 she missed a forehand inside in, and then drove a two-handed backhand long. She was down 15-40, and saved one set point with a down the line forehand winner off a poorly executed drop shot from the heavy favorite. But then Williams sealed the set in style with a sharply angled crosscourt backhand drawing a netted forehand on the dead run from Kerber. Set to Williams, 7-5. It could hardly have been better played by either competitor.
On they went to the second set, and Kerber remained firmly entrenched in the battle. Williams opened with a hold at 15, ending that game with an ace out wide with heavy slice at 97 MPH. When Kerber reached 40-15 in the second game with a neatly executed forehand down the line winner, the Centre Court erupted. She held at 15 for 1-1 before Williams took the third game at 15, producing another ace on her way to 2-1. Kerber performed superbly to make it 2-2, holding at 15 by keeping her opponent on a string in a brilliantly orchestrated rally, sending the American scurrying side to side, forcing a sliced backhand error.
Williams sustained her quiet intensity admirably, holding at 30 for 3-2. Serving at 2-3, 30-30, Kerber scrambled tremendously and prevailed in a stirring exchange by directing her backhand down the line to coax an error from the American. She held on for 3-3 as Williams narrowly missed a forehand approach down the line.
The seventh game was critical from the standpoint of both players. Williams faced her one and only break point of the entire afternoon, and handled it as only she could. An ace at 117 out wide lifted Serena back to deuce. Another ace down the T at 124 MPH allowed Williams to advance to game point, and then a penetrating backhand down the line lured Kerber into a mistake. From break point down, Williams held on forcefully to take a 4-3 lead.
That stand may have shaken Kerber, who at last showed signs of apprehension when she served in the eighth game. The German was ahead 40-15 but swiftly the American drew level at deuce. A heavy return off the forehand from Serena gave her break point, and then a smart return down the middle from Williams seemed to confuse Kerber. The No. 4 seed wildly sent a backhand down the line well wide of the court. On that run of four points in a row, Williams went to 5-3, and suddenly she was serving for the match, serving for a seventh title on the lawns of the All England Club, serving for the 22nd major she had sought since the U.S.Open last year.
The top seed was letter perfect in closing out the account. A service winner out wide with heavy slice was barely touched: 15-0. Another unstoppable first serve was overwhelming for Kerber: 30-0.A third consecutive unanswerable first serve made it 40-0 and then the American ventured to the net to put away a forehand volley to hold at love.
It was a much better match than the score reflects. The rallies were often enthralling. The standards were high on both sides of the net. Kerber dealt with the grass court conditions exceedingly well, holding her ground on the baseline, giving almost nothing away, executing her shots cleanly. And the German only lost her serve once in each set, which is no mean feat against the best woman player in the world.
Williams simply served her way to the title. She won 38 of 43 first serve points (88%), and poured 65% of her first serves in. Although she won only 39% of her second serve points, it simply did not matter. For her part, Kerber won only 59% of her first serve points but somehow was victorious on 68% of her second serve points.
Had Williams not served so stupendously throughout the match—including 13 aces in eleven games on her delivery—she might have been hard pressed to win. But she fully realized how essential it would be to serve with sustained accuracy, potency and consistency from beginning to end, and she did just that.
Her record at all the majors is excellent. Williams now owns not only seven Wimbledon singles titles, but she has taken six at the Australian and U.S. Opens, and three more at Roland Garros. That is balanced greatness. That is the product of a renewed level of commitment in her thirties after some unproductive years in her twenties. There can be no doubt that the influence of her coach Patrick Mouratoglou has been substantial. Since she started working with him in 2012 after a first round loss at the French Open, Williams has flourished. Her career record prior to the arrival of Mouratoglou was 523-107 (.830) with 41 WTA Tour titles and victories in 13 of 47 Grand Slam events she had played.
Since the Frenchman came into her camp, Williams is now 245-20 (.924) with 29 WTA Tour titles and triumphs in 9 of 17 Grand Slam events she has entered. That is no accident. Her understanding of the game, her prowess as a match player of the highest order and the seriousness of her pursuit of the greatest prizes has been monumentally altered.
My feeling is that she will inevitably move past Graf on the all-time list at the majors, most likely at the U.S.Open in September. It it doesn’t happen for her there, Williams will get No. 23 early next year in Australia. Inevitably, she will tie Margaret Court somewhere along the line. Whether or not she will surpass the statuesque Australian is harder to forecast. Williams turns 35 in September. She needs to stay free of injuries and make the most of the next two years; thereafter, the windows of opportunity will close swiftly.
Meanwhile, Williams can smile again after enduring her string of hard Grand Slam setbacks. She had not won a major since Wimbledon in 2015. But now her sense of self and enjoyment in playing without emotional burdens will be restored. She clearly wants to be considered the greatest woman player of all time, and the only way she can be worthy of that status is to add more luster to her record.
Her span between majors is already record breaking: she took her first of the premier prizes back in 1999, seventeen long years ago, when she was still only 17 years old. That enduring run of excellence is astonishing. She is bidding to finish a season at No. 1 in the world for the fourth year in a row, and that is impressive; prior to 2013 she had only concluded two years (2002 and 2009) as the top ranked woman in the world.
These next 24 months will be fascinating in determining where we believe Serena Williams belongs on the all time ladder. Meanwhile, she can take some time now to appreciate her latest triumph on the lawns, which just might lead to several more historical moments of supreme consequence.