Serena Williams’ 22nd Grand Slam win didn’t come on a platter. Besides, it took her one full year to add to the earlier 21 Grand Slam victories. She can now heave a sigh of relief at having equaled Steffi Graf’s 22 victories in Grand Slam tournaments. In between, Serena had her chances but ran into rough weather. In 2015 US open, she suffered an unexpected semifinal loss to Italy’s doubles specialist Roberta Vinci, went down in Australian Open final to Angelique Kerber and lost to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza at French Open. Serena is less than 100 days shy of her 35th birthday but still ranked as world no.1 for the last 177 weeks. This period is just 9 weeks short of consecutive weeks’ record of 186, held by Germany’s Steffi Graf. In terms of overall total period as world’s no.1 women’s player, Serena’s 300 weeks are at third place behind Steffi Graf’s 377 weeks and Martina Navratilova’s 332. Of the currently active players, Caroline Wozniascki had been world no.1 for 67 weeks and Victoria Azarenka for 51. Thus the American s head and shoulders above them and until she hangs her boots, no one has a chance to come closer. In Saturday’s final however, Serena had to fight hard against Kerber, who showed no signs of giving up easily. Serena got the crucial breaks once in each of the two sets but Kerber put up a brave resistance throughout. In terms of spectator interest, it was a great match, worthy of being billed a classic. The German didn’t allow Serena an easy time and attacked on both flanks. She scored some breathtaking points against the defending champion but had to bow out in the end.
On Saturday, Serena Williams’ problems were more psychological than real. She was playing against an opponent, who had beaten her at Australian Open at Melbourne in January this year. The other mental block had to do with equaling Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slam wins, a record that the American had been expected to reach for a while. But on Saturday, she needed to beat Germany’s Angelique Kerber, whose game has seen vast improvement in the last one year. When Kerber reached the semifinals of the 2011 US Open 5 years ago, she was ranked no. 92 in the world. Today she is no.2 behind Serena and it was just as well that the best two women players in the world faced each other in 2016 Wimbledon final. Both of them had an impressive run-up to the final. While Kerber didn’t drop a set and defeated Simona Halep and Venus Williams on her way, Serena survived a wobble against compatriot Christina McHale in the third round. Other than that, the American didn’t face any other hurdle.
Saturday’s final began in gusty winds with Serena winning the toss to serve first. The level of tennis by both players was top class and they kept holding their service until the 11th game. In the twelfth, however, Serena held two break points on Kerber’s service at 15-40. The German saved the first but Serena raised her game and broke Kerber to steal the first set at 7-5. This was perhaps the only time in the first set that Kerber couldn’t control her game against the great Serena.
The second set was a replica of the first until the 7th game with both players admirably holding their serves. In the eighth game as Kerber served, she coasted to a 40-15 lead. Just when it looked an easy hold for the German, Serena played inspiring tennis to win three consecutive points and at deuce, she earned the advantage. With Kerber playing a backhand wide, Serena took a 5-3 lead with her service to follow. After such a brave resistance in the match, Kerber had cracked and Serena looked on her way. The world no.1 made things easy for herself in the ninth game. After she held three championship points at 40-0, Serena sent down another great service. Kerber was able to return but next, she charged to the net in trying to pass Serena. But the American had probably sensed the move and she was ready with a forehand volley. Her shot appeared to go over the line but the ball touched the line. It was all over at that moment. History was made as Serena fell on the court. She lay sprawled on her back for a while to allow the big moment to sink into her. Then she rose and ran across the net to hug her opponent. It was a historic occasion. After all the waiting, Serena Williams had reached a momentous milestone in her long and illustrious career. 22 Grand Slam victories is a huge achievement. Steffi Graf wouldn’t mind Serena coming at level with her, except perhaps that she has done it against a German!