Kerber faces tough ask against Williams in battle of comeback queens
Serena could win 24th Grand Slam in just 14th match into comeback
Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber in action during the women’s final at Wimbledon in 2016. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
No one is underestimating Angelique Kerber. Not even Serena Williams. Far from the giggling teenager spouting banalities that tennis had become used to in previous years, the 30-year-old German has a shrewd awareness of her task on Saturday and a sense of what she must do to tear down the edifice.
Kerber faces a force of nature, an icon, a woman who has declared herself a role model and whose hunger has driven her to consuming as many of the records in tennis as possible.
The best player in the history of the game, a Grand Slam win just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter has become a fierce driver to an already driven woman.
“I don’t want to limit myself,” said Williams this week. “I think that’s what I was doing in the past, I was limiting myself.”
A win would put Williams level with Margaret Court on 24 Grand Slam wins. She will want to match it and beat it. The German 10th seed knows that.
But Kerber is the product of a work ethic and decisiveness that saved a dipping career, which fell outside the Major-winning circle before it was abruptly turned around this year.
Having begun 2017 as world number one, Kerber managed to reach only one tour final and ended the year ranked 21st in the world.
She hired coach Wim Fissette, formerly with Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka, at the start of this year and her trajectory has swung upwards again.
She reached the Australian Open semi-final, equalled her best run at Roland Garros by reaching the last eight and is on the cusp of a Wimbledon title, having previously won in Australia and the US Open in 2016.
That year is where she might look to see how 36-year-old Williams can be unzipped. Kerber beat Williams for her Australian win and then lost to her at Wimbledon the same year.
This time she meets the American playing strongly enough to effectively act the bully on court. But Williams is, by her own reckoning, severely undercooked and her serve was taken for the first time by Julia Görges in the semi-finals. Görges felt it was Williams’s experience that beat her, not her big game.
“I think every single game was very close,” said Görges. “I think on some balls I felt also that she was a little bit more lucky, as well.”
Saturday’s final will be just Williams’s 14th match into her comeback after giving birth last September. But Kerber is also framing her rise this year as a comeback and denying Williams any sense of momentum the feeling of an upward trajectory might provide.
“I think it is a completely new match,” said Kerber of their 2016 meeting. “We both learnt a lot. She’s coming back. For me, I’m coming back from 2017.
“I can’t compare this year with 2016 or 17. I’m really proud to be back in the Wimbledon final, especially after last year where things weren’t like I was expecting.”
With her fetching ability, Kerber has won an impressive 47 per cent of her return games this fortnight against Williams winning 89 per cent of her service games. Hers is the delivery that never gives.
Other than the £2,250,000 (€2,545,571) prizemoney for the champion, Kerber can deny Williams quite a package. Ranked at 181 in the world coming into the tournament, victory would make her the lowest ranked player to win a Wimbledon final. She is already the lowest ranked to make the final.
A win would make her the oldest Grand Slam champion in the Open era, overtaking her own record set at the Australian Open last year.
“Believe me, I know she wants to go out there and win. So do I,” said Williams. “Last Wimbledon I won was against her. But this is a different one. She’s playing so well. I think she’s incredibly confident. Yeah, I have to be ready for the match of my life.”
Kerber has the mental courage and physical strength to tear down the Williams monolith. If she does it must be brick by brick.