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.”Follow @nbcolympictalk