Serena Williams longs to tell her daughter how she bound her longtime label, champion, with her newer one, mother. She’s one match from making that happen, 10 months after childbirth.
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles winner and seven times at Wimbledon, advanced to Saturday’s Wimbledon final against former No. 1 Angelique Kerber with a dominant 6-2, 6-4 win over German Julia Görges on Thursday.
“It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, you know, because literally, didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,” said Williams, who returned to tournament play in March after a 13-month absence. “When I don’t have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that’s kind of what I’m doing.”
Williams had daughter Olympian on Sept. 1, followed by pulmonary embolism complications that left her bedridden for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.
“Almost didn’t make it,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox, so it’s definitely not normal for me to be in a Wimbledon final.”
On Saturday, Williams can match Australian Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles and move one shy of Martina Navratilova‘s record nine Wimbledons.
Williams has coveted Court’s record since breaking Steffi Graf‘s Open Era mark with her last title at the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant. But she insisted Friday that Court’s 24 has not crossed her mind as she’s dropped one set in six matches.
“I’ve probably forgot about it,” Williams said. “That’s a good thing because I put so much pressure on myself when I was trying to get to 18 [tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert] and the rest. It was so much. But as I said in the past couple years, I don’t want to limit myself, and I think that’s what I was doing in the past. … I want to get as many as I can.”
The other finalist knows what it’s like to beat Williams for a major title.
Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open and U.S. Open winner, beat 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-3 in Thursday’s early semifinal. Williams swept Kerber 7-5, 6-3 in their last meeting in the 2016 Wimbledon final and said she’s been watching the German play well the last two weeks.
“A lot of people, I don’t think in the beginning of the tournament have been looking at her,” Williams said of the 11th seed Kerber, who was the highest-ranked player left after the top 10 seeds were eliminated before the quarterfinals for the first time in Grand Slam history. “She’s playing so well, and she’s incredibly confident. So I have to be ready for the match of my life.”
Williams was given the 25th seed, up from her No. 181 ranking due to maternity leave, and would move into the top 20 with the title. But recall that Kerber upset Williams in the 2016 Australian Open final, one of two Williams losses in her 12 Grand Slam finals since the start of 2012.
“It is a completely new match,” said Kerber, who failed to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 2017, won zero tournaments, fell from No. 1 to 21 and changed coaches. “We both learned a lot. She’s coming back, and for me also, I’m coming back from 2017.”
Williams can become the second mother in the last 38 years to win a Grand Slam singles title. Belgian Kim Clijsters captured the 2009 U.S. Open, 18 months after childbirth, then added two more Grand Slam titles before retiring in 2012.
“Whatever happens, honestly, it’s an incredible effort from me and just good motivation to keep going for the rest of our career,” Williams said.
Williams, who turns 37 on Sept. 26, sounds like she plans on going for a while longer. And though her footwork has improved in these last four months, she can take motivation from Olympia’s swifter maturation.
“She’s trying to go faster than her body will allow her to go,” Williams said, smiling. “I was expecting a few more baby steps myself, but I still feel like I’m in that baby-step place. I’ve said it all week, this is only my fourth tournament back, but every time I go out there I want to take a giant step forward.”
Wimbledon continues Friday with the men’s semifinals: Rafael Nadal playing Novak Djokovic for a 52nd time, most between two men in the Open Era (Djokovic leads 26-25), and American John Isner against South African Kevin Anderson in a match of first-time Wimbledon semifinalists.
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