Wimbledon: Nothing stops Serena Williams from fulfilling life less ordinary

American claims seventh Wimbledon crown to reestablish her dominance

Was there ever any doubt about who Serena Williams would follow more closely, Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova? It was Navratilova's 18 grand slam mark Williams first surpassed and Graf's tally of 22 she equalled with her 7-5, 6-3 Wimbledon win over Angelique Kerber on Saturday.

But in creating a hinterland that goes beyond the sport, Williams has found herself walking in Navratilova terrain as an advocate for something more than tennis.

Outspoken on issues ranging from what it means to be a female athlete to racism and equal prizemoney, prior to her high-octane Centre Court win over the 29-year-old German player, the 34-year-old was last week asked to defend why prizemoney should be the same for women.

On Saturday, it was a day of making marks in tennis history and of confronting wider issues than her seventh Wimbledon title. That number again equalled Graf’s but is two short of Navratilova’s nine.


Narrow window

It was Williams reestablishing her dominance in the women’s game on a grand scale against an opponent who drew generous applause for her gritty resistance and heart. The seventh game of the second set is where Kerber had her one break point chance on Williams serve. She missed it and that narrow window closed with an ace.

From tennis and her name high in the sports record lists, it was no surprise when the conversation moved to issues of race and police brutality against black people in America and Dallas.

“I do have nephews,” said Williams reflecting on the previous few days. “I’m thinking, do I have to call them and tell them, ‘Don’t go outside. If you get in your car, it might be the last time I see you.’

“The shooting in Dallas was very sad. No one deserves to lose their life, doesn’t matter what colour they are, where they’re from, added Williams who lost her sister Yetunde in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. “It’s going to take a lot of education and a lot of work, I think, to get to that point. It’s something that is very painful to see happening.”

But a harsh truth is that even after victory as she fell back onto the grass, the applause was vigorous but more respectful than warm. Held in awe as a player and feared by opponents, Williams has never been invited to the bosom of the Centre Court crowd.

“I’m a really good friend. I’m really caring. I’m very, very emotional. I’m really giving,” she answered when asked to describe Serena Williams the woman.

She is more remote and less ordinary than most players but then hers has been a special life and the one hour and 21 minutes it took to prise open the tiny fractures that appeared in Kerber’s service games illustrated how extraordinary she has become.

In the second set, the German began to be ground down by the intensity of Williams and the tests the American was assigning on each point.

Retrieving the ball, putting it back to Williams in a place where it might hurt, came apart in the second set just after Williams had aced her to save serve. Williams worked her way to deuce at 4-3 up before an uncontrolled Kerber backhand, accompanied by a shriek, went ballooning into the air and handed over the break of serve.

From there Williams was three right-arm deliveries that Kerber couldn’t get back from her 22nd Grand Slam. She has contested 28 Grand Slam finals and lost only six, two of those this year as she chased Graf’s tally.

Make me stronger

“I put a lot of that pressure on myself,” she said. “Obviously I had some really tough losses. I was able to show resilience that, no, that’s not going to shake me, you’re not going to break me, it’s going to make me stronger.”

Last year Williams accepted a Sports Illustrated award for sports person of the year. At her acceptance speech she read a poem by civil rights activist and writer, Maya Angelou called Still I Rise.

You may shoot me with your words/You may cut me with your eyes/ You may kill me with your hatefulness/But still, like air, I’ll rise.

She has to Graf and she will now try to reach Margaret Court’s 24.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times