Against all the odds, or perhaps somewhat as expected, 7-time Wimbledon champion and 11th seeded Serena Williams has given herself another opportunity to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles on Saturday.
I really want to do it. I'm in a different place because I wasn't really playing a month ago, like, at all Serena Williams
Her straight sets win over Barbora Strycova in just 59 minutes signalled her intent so strongly that now, for the third time of asking, Serena is once again poised to make history.
She missed her chance here last year, when she lost to Angelique Kerber, and at the US Open where she fell to Naomi Osaka.
“Yeah, I had to get to those finals, looking back, to even be in those two finals last year was unbelievable,” she told the media after her match.
“Now I’m in a different place. Like I just am more calm. Instead of having nothing to lose, I feel like I have things to lose, but I also have nothing to lose. It’s like I’m in the middle.
“I really want to do it. I’m in a different place because I wasn’t really playing a month ago, like, at all. So it’s all kind of coming together. I can’t really put how I’m taking it.”
This time, Simona Halep stands in her path, the Romanian having dispatched Elina Svitolina with the loss of one more game, 6-1 6-3.
On this day, Serena was just too strong and too experienced for her likeable Czech opponent, who has a unique style and extraordinary tenacity.
Serena’s progress through the draw is all the more remarkable because this year has seen her play only 12 matches coming into Wimbledon, struggling with a knee problem and illness.
The chronic injury flared up months ago and the pain was unbearable so she was not at her best coming in to The Championships, but she has somehow found a way, improving with each outing and even embracing mixed doubles with Sir Andy Murray.
Serena’s serve dictated play, and her strong deliveries ensured that she didn’t get broken at all during the match, saving all 3 break points faced.
Applying the pressure against Strycova’s serve, Serena finally broke for an early 3-1 lead.
She dropped just 3 games in a dominant semi-final performance, and fired 27 winners and 4 aces en route to her 6-1 6-2 victory against the always-tricky Strycova.
After she fended off the tenacious Alison Riske in the quarter-finals, champion Serena was back, casting off her inhibition and apparently making her first appearance at Wimbledon 2019.
“We found the old Serena that we know, that we like. That I like,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena’s coach.
“History can help you, but it can also get in the way,” Martina Navratilova said. “If you think of the bigger picture, you will not be able to move.”
Both Navratilova and Tracy Austin looked for any sign of Serena’s infamous nerves but her footwork was impeccable, her concentration absolute.
Strycova, however, seemed to pull up after launching herself at a Williams winner in the first game, and was hampered for the rest of the match.
It was not a good start for the 33-year-old Czech and all the things that had worked so well against Johanna Konta two days ago, the slice and dice, the serve and volley, barely made a dent in Serena’s defences.
The American dropped just 3 points on her first serve, she hit 4 aces, saved all 3 break points against her and, in return, she broke Strycova’s serve 4 times.
After extending her lead to 5-1, Serena faced a late wobble when serving out the set, finding herself trailing 0-40 after a spate of loose unforced errors, and Strycova looked eager to capitalise.
The former World No 1 dug herself out of trouble, and served out the set to take it 6-1.
Serena continued to dominate in the second, which saw her drop just 4 points in total on her service games.
The American covered the court with ease, finishing points at the net and hitting winners off of both wings.
She reeled off the last 5 games in a row, breaking twice to seal the victory in just under the hour.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner already has more Grand Slams than anyone in the Open Era after surpassing Stefanie Graf’s 22 titles two years ago, and now Serena will seek to tie the all-time record and equal Margaret Court’s 24 titles.
Standing between Serena and the Venus Rosewater Dish is former French Open champion Halep, herself re-invented on the grass and eager to add to her tally.
It will be their 11th career meeting, with the American dominating the head-to-head record at 9 wins to 1.
“There’s so many impressive things about her,” Serena said about Halep. “I think obviously her tenacity.
“I think her ability to improve every time, just to keep improving. Her ability to find power. Can’t underestimate her. She’s like a little powerhouse.
“Obviously, yeah, she finished the year No 1 twice in a row. I feel like she’s back. She wants to prove that she can do it again.
“I think the biggest key with our matches is the loss that I had. I never forgot it. She played unbelievable.
“That makes me know that level she played at, she can get there again. So I have to be better than that.”