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Serena Williams beaten by Angelique Kerber for Wimbledon title

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LONDON (AP) — Angelique Kerber was not about to be overwhelmed by the setting or the stakes in this Wimbledon final. She knew exactly what to expect — and what to do — against Serena Williams.

Two years after losing to Williams with a title on the line at Centre Court, Kerber came through. So steady, so patient, so accurate throughout, she never really gave Williams much of a chance this time, putting together a 6-3, 6-3 victory Saturday for her first championship at the All England Club and third major overall.

“I think it’s the experience. You have to go through all the things — the good things, the bad things — and then you need to learn,” said Kerber, the first German to win Wimbledon since Steffi Graf in 1996.

“I know that against Serena, I have to play my best tennis, especially in the important moments,” said Kerber, who won the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 2016, but was the runner-up to Williams at Wimbledon that season, “especially in the important moments.”

That’s just what she did.

“Angelique played really well,” Williams said. “She played out of her mind.”

Kerber made only five unforced errors the entire match, 19 fewer than Williams. Perhaps more impressive was this: She broke Williams in 4 of 9 service games.

In doing so, Kerber prevented Williams from claiming an eighth title at Wimbledon and 24th from all Grand Slam tournaments, which would have equaled Margaret Court’s record. As things stand, Williams holds the mark for the half-century of professional tennis, one ahead of Kerber’s idol, Graf.

Williams gave birth only 10½ months ago, then was treated for blood clots. She wore special compression leggings as a precaution during Wimbledon, just the fourth tournament of her comeback.

After all the time away, Williams spoke about being impressed with herself for just reaching the final. She also wanted to win, of course.

“To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today — and I tried,” said the 36-year-old American, her voice shaking during the trophy ceremony.

Kerber addressed Williams during the on-court interviews, saying: “You’re such an inspiration for everybody, for all of us. I’m sure you will have your next Grand Slam title soon. I’m really, really sure.”

The final started more than two hours late, because they had to wait for the end of Novak Djokovic’s five-set victory over Rafael Nadal in a men’s semifinal that was suspended the night before. On Sunday, Djokovic will play Kevin Anderson, who won his semifinal against John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set Friday night.

Despite so much Grand Slam success, despite holding a 6-2 career edge against Kerber entering the day, Williams played tightly right from the outset.

After taking the opening two points, she made four miscues in a row to get broken. That was part of a run in which she dropped 8 of 9 points. Williams was mostly her own undoing, too: She was responsible for the final’s initial six unforced errors. By the time the first set was over, the disparity was 14-3.

That’s not going to work against an opponent of Kerber’s quality.

Trying to sneak a ball by Kerber is something akin to trying to put one past a brick wall. There are no holes.

The left-hander scurried along the baseline, this way and that, using a combination of quickness and anticipation to track down what often appeared to be winners for Williams but were not enough to end a point. Kerber would bend real low, even putting a knee right on the grass to get a ball back.

And when she swung her racket, the measure was almost always true.

Kerber is much more than a defender. She has added a more aggressive element to her game in recent years and worked to improve her serve.

“I’m still sure that we haven’t seen the best Angie,” said her coach, Wim Fissette. “The defense is one of her qualities, but she also knows now that she’s not going to win a Grand Slam with just defense, and that’s, for me, very important.”

Kerber was broken only once. And she delivered a pair of down-the-line forehand passing winners to grab the last break of Williams she’d need, for a 4-2 edge in the second set.

Kerber celebrated match point by covering her face and collapsing flat on her back, getting grass stains on her white outfit. She relished the moment she had dreamt about as a little kid, watching Graf on TV.

Williams, meanwhile, sure sounded like a tennis player who is just starting her career.

“I think these two weeks have really showed me that, OK, I can compete. Obviously I can compete for the long run in a Grand Slam,” she said. “I can, you know, come out and be a contender to win Grand Slams.”

Williams was supported by several celebrity friends at Centre Court.

That group included Tiger Woods, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and — in the front row of the Royal Box — the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.

Williams was asked what she’ll tell her daughter, Olympia, about this tournament and this day.

“Well, I think it was a happy story,” Williams said with a smile. “I’ll probably change the ending.”

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Serena Williams makes Wimbledon final, 10 months after childbirth

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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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Maria Sharapova routed by Garbine Muguruza in French Open quarterfinal

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The extra rest from Maria Sharapova‘s walkover from an injured Serena Williams did little for her in the French Open quarterfinals.

Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, the No. 3 seed and 2016 French Open champ, routed Sharapova 6-2, 6-1 in 70 minutes to advance to Thursday’s semifinals against top-ranked Simona Halep, a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2 winner over Angelique Kerber later Wednesday.

Americans Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys meet in the other Thursday semi.

On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal‘s quarterfinal was stopped by rain with Argentine Diego Schwartzman leading 6-4, 3-5, and Nadal serving, two points from evening the match. Nadal-Schwartzman and the last men’s quarterfinal, Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro tied 5-5 in a first-set tiebreak, are scheduled to resume Thursday at 6 a.m. ET.

Sharapova, a two-time French Open champ, played at Roland Garros this year for the first time since 2015. She missed 2016 due to a doping ban and wasn’t given a wild card in 2017, when her comeback ranking wasn’t high enough to earn a main-draw spot.

Sharapova was to face Williams in a fourth-round showdown Monday. The Russian received a walkover after Williams withdrew with a right pectoral muscle injury that prevented her from serving.

On Wednesday, Sharapova looked far from her best right from the start, double-faulting three times to get broken in the opening game. She ended up with six double-faults and 27 total unforced errors, 12 more than Muguruza.

“I think she did a lot of things better than I did. I think she was the aggressive one,” Sharapova said. “She had a lot more depth in the ball. I think my shots were a lot more forced. She served a lot better than I did.”

Muguruza hasn’t dropped a set in Paris. She entered Wednesday’s quarterfinal fresh, too, after Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko retired from their fourth-round match Monday with a leg injury after two games.

NBC, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app coverage of the French Open continues Thursday at 11 a.m. across all time zones.

French Open Semifinals
Women
(1) Simona Halep – (3) Garbine Muguruza
(13) Madison Keys – (10) Sloane Stephens

Men
(1) Nadal/(11) Schwartzman – (3) Cilic/(5) Del Potro
Marco Cecchinato – (7) Dominic Thiem

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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FRENCH OPEN: TV/Stream Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw (PDF) | Women’s Draw