Not many felt Simona Halep could stop Serena Williams from gaining her 24th Grand Slam title, but the Romanian tore up the history books and shocked the world as she blew the American away in the final of the ladies singles at Wimbledon.
I can't describe how I feel winning Wimbledon, It's pretty special. Simona Halep
Halep played the tennis of her life, delivering a master class, to take Serena down and become her country’s first-ever singles champion here.
“I can’t describe how I feel winning Wimbledon,” Halep said later. “It’s pretty special.”
She was playing in another zone, dispatching the 7-time champion in 56 minutes, 6-2 6-2, and never allowing her a chance to impose herself on the contest.
Halep was simply unstoppable as she swatted aside any challenge the American made, displaying remarkable resolve and inner belief to claim her maiden Wimbledon title in sensational fashion on Saturday.
Any hopes of Serena equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles crowns were dashed by Halep’s blistering display on the Centre Court.
Her French Open triumph last year had helped to lay to rest the demons of 3 previous major final defeats, and the 7th seed now looks completely at home on the grass at the All England Club.
Williams was undoubtedly below her best, but the reality was, even at the peak of her powers, she would have struggled to live with Halep’s relentless accuracy and energy, the World No 7 committing only 3 unforced errors over the entire match.
Her rival, meanwhile, totted up 26 as she fell to defeat in a third straight major final, while Halep celebrated the most resounding of triumphs by sinking to her knees and then covering her mouth with her hand, seemingly in disbelief at her own display.
Serena’s start belied the experience of a woman playing in her 11th singles final at Wimbledon as she looked edgy, a netted backhand and a wide forehand handing Halep an immediate break.
The Romanian built on that with a hold to love and, remarkably, it was 4-0 in a little over 10 minutes, Halep securing a double break with a backhand return winner.
Williams did get on the board, but she could only applaud in game 6 when a stunning backhand pass whizzed by her as she approached the net.
She then carved out her first break chance, but Halep swiftly snuffed that out and some incredible defence combined with a whipped forehand saw her hold for 5-1.
A forehand return winner saw the American rescue one set point, but she soon erred on the same side as Halep forged ahead in the match, having made just 2 unforced errors to her opponent’s 10.
Williams produced a couple of guttural roars en route to holding at the start of the second, but she soon found herself under pressure again in the 5th game.
Halep was ruthless in dispatching a forehand, with Williams out of position at the net, a winner that created 2 break-point chances, and the American was the architect of her own downfall as she dumped a simple backhand long with the court wide open.
The Romanian made no mistake in aiming for the same corner as she secured a crucial second break in the 7th game, and victory was assured with a minimum of fuss – a love service game rounded off when a dejected Williams crashed a forehand into the net.
Halep had won, playing some sublime tennis that left the American with no answer whatsoever, and it seemed that before anyone on Centre Court could fathom what had unfolded before them, the Romanian was ruthlessly serving for the Championship and hoisting the famous Venus Rosewater Dish aloft.
In front of a host of Royal faces and various celebrities, Halep delivered the performance of a lifetime, and the Centre Court crowd rose to her in ovation.
Wonderfully humble and charming, she smiled and joked in front of her idol, the Duchess of Cambridge in her post match interview, getting the laughs and speaking straight from the heart, prompting the twitter-sphere into overdrive.
“I’m very sure that was the best match of my life, and also on grass against her is never easy,” she told the BBC’s Sue Barker, with a broad smile.
“Serena has always inspired us, so thanks for that. It was the first time in front of the Royal Box.
“So I’m really proud of my game of today and the whole tournament.
“It’s something very special and I’ll never forget this day,” the former World No 1 added.
“Well I had nerves, my stomach wasn’t well before. But I knew there was no time for emotions. I just came out on court to do my best.
“It was my mum’s dream. she said when I was 10 that if I want to do something in tennis it is to play in the Wimbledon final.
“I told people in the locker room that if I win I will get membership for life, it was one of the motivations for me.
“I have changed my game a bit to win more matches on the grass and this year I felt more that I could do more with the ball and I cannot wait to get back next year.”
It was probably one of the best interviews the Centre Court has seen.
After losing to Kerber here a year ago, then going down to Naomi Osaka in a stormy US Open final, the stage was set for the 37-year-old Serena to move level with Australian Margaret Court on the all-time list.
Despite having only 5 tournaments under her belt this year, Williams, who won her first Wimbledon title in 2002, had looked calm and composed en route to her 11th Wimbledon final.
If she thought she could put down an early marker she was mistaken, as 3 unforced errors in the opening game handed Halep an unexpected gift of an early break.
Halep grew in stature and could not miss. Williams, on the other hand, looked tight and lacked any feel.
There was strong support for the American, including of the Royal variety with friend Meghan Markle joining the Duchess of Cambridge in a crammed Royal Box.
“She played out of her mind,” reflected Williams. “I was like a deer in headlights.
“When a player plays that amazing, then you have to take your hat off and say well done!”
“I’ve got to keep trying, keep fighting and enjoying the sport. I love coming out here and playing in front of you guys. It’s always fun.
“My team is amazing. Thanks for the support and I love you all.”
Williams served 45 aces en route to the final but it was Halep who served the first one on Saturday to move 4-0 ahead.
It was 13 minutes before Williams even got the scoreboard ticking.
“Wake up Serena” someone yelled as Halep served for the first set at 5-2, but it fell on deaf ears as a shanked forehand return ended the set after 26 minutes.
Halep knew there would be a backlash and Williams raised the decibel level at the start of the second set, bent double, fists clenched and bellowing after a volleyed winner.
Williams led 2-1 but Halep’s scampering was making her play an extra shot in every rally, many of which were wild ones.
At 2-2 Halep scooped up a ball she had no right to reach and Williams lurched forward to blaze a backhand long.
The end came quickly. Halep broke again for 5-2 and calmly held to clinch the title.
“It feels good,” Halep told the media later after being asked how it felt to be a member of the All England Club. “I wanted this badly.
“When I started the tournament, I talked to the people from the locker room that my dream is to become a member here. So today it’s real and I’m really happy.
As to how she neutralised Serena’s game after losing to her many times, she said: “So I will start talking about the match.
“I knew that I have to be aggressive, being 100% for every ball, that I don’t have to let her come back to the match because she’s so powerful and so strong.
“She knows how to manage every moment. So I knew that I have to stay there, which I did pretty well today.
“I managed after winning the French Open pretty well, even if I was a little bit exhausted in the end of last year.
“I took a big holiday, a long holiday, and then I said it is a chill year. But I meant I wanted to relax as a person, not as a player.
“I still work hard for every day, every match, every tournament. That’s why I was able to win this tournament now in this moment.
“I’ve been professional all the time. I’m happy about what I achieved these two weeks. I can’t describe how I feel winning Wimbledon. It’s pretty special.”
Serena lived up to her name with the media, agreeing that her epic career may be nearing its end.
Asked about the Centre Court crowd’s overt support for her, Williams, who turns 38 in September, replied: “I definitely felt the support and the love. I appreciated it. I wanted to do better.”
Then with a rueful smile, she added: “I don’t think my opponent wanted me to do better, but it’s cool. We’re not going to be out here in the next three, four, five years. The time is now to watch us play.”
‘We’ and ‘us’ perhaps included her sister Venus, whose next birthday cake will be her 40th.
Williams seems reluctant to make overt statements of intent.
“I had no chance at the French this year, for sure,” she said emphatically. “Someone told me I shouldn’t look at the records any more. I should just focus on my game. That’s what I’ve been doing since I got to 18 [Grand Slam titles]. In the meantime, I got pregnant, had a baby. That definitely plays a little bit into it.
“I feel like I’m still incredibly competitive or else I wouldn’t be out here. For the most part, I feel like I’m on the right track in terms of getting back to where I need to be.”
History was looking towards Serena Williams in this ladies final, and it turned out that history was gazing in the wrong direction as Simona Halep is now the champion of Wimbledon.