Julia Goerges

AP

Serena Williams into Wimbledon fourth round; Sloane Stephens out

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Serena Williams walked into her news conference at Wimbledon holding her phone, a cold bottle of water and a statistics sheet that reinforced what was clear from watching her third-round singles victory Saturday:

She is as close to being back to her best as she’s been in a while.

Williams, hampered for much of this season by injuries or illness, took a step forward against 18th-seeded Julia Goerges, a powerful hitter in her own right who lost to the American in last year’s semifinals at the All England Club. Sure enough, Williams hit serves at up to 120 mph, put in a tournament-best 71 percent of her first serves, never faced so much as one break point and won 6-3, 6-4.

“It’s been an arduous year for me,” said Williams, who had competed only 12 times in 2019 until this week, mostly because of a bothersome left knee that finally is pain-free. “So every match, I’m hoping to improve tons.”

Maybe it was a good thing she played twice Saturday, then.

About 4½ hours after getting past Goerges at No. 1 Court, Williams headed out to Centre Court for her much-ballyhooed debut as Andy Murray’s teammate in mixed doubles. Other than one slip near the net when she lost her footing in the first set — she was fine and laughed it off — Williams looked good during the 6-4, 6-1 win against Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi, including smacking one serve at 122 mph, equaling the fastest hit in singles by any woman (her, naturally) during the tournament.

“Andy and I both love the competition. I know we both want to do well,” Williams said. “We’re not here just for show.”

She rarely is.

But if Williams is going to win an eighth singles championship at Wimbledon, and a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title overall, she will want more performances like the one she gave against Goerges.

Forceful, yes, but nothing was forced.

“I play pretty good when I’m calm, but also super-intense, just finding the balance in between there,” the 37-year-old Williams said. “So it’s a hard balance to find, because sometimes when I’m too calm, I don’t have enough energy. Still trying to find that balance.”

Two more key stats on the paper she brought to her media session: She produced more winners than unforced errors, 19-15, while Goerges finished with 32 forced errors, a reflection of just how difficult Williams can make it for opponents to handle shots she sends their way.

Goerges credited Williams with causing havoc with her returns, as well.

After averaging 10 aces in the first two rounds, Goerges was limited to half that many.

Of more significance, perhaps, was that Williams’ stinging replies to serves immediately put her in control of points.

“It’s fair to say that she builds up enormous pressure with her returns,” Goerges said. “That means I need to go to the limit in my service games.”

After the traditional middle Sunday off, action resumes Monday with all fourth-round men’s and women’s singles matches.

Williams, who is seeded 11th, will face No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro, while the other matchups on the top half of the women’s field established Saturday are No. 1 Ash Barty, who has a 15-match winning streak, against unseeded Alison Riske of the U.S.; No. 21 Elise Mertens against Barbora Strycova; and two-time champion Petra Kvitova against No. 19 Johanna Konta of Britain.

On the bottom half, it will be the 15-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff vs. No. 7 Simona Halep; No. 3 Karolina Pliskova vs. Karolina Muchova; No. 8 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 24 Petra Martic; and Dayana Yastremska vs. Shuai Zhang.

In the men’s draw, eight-time champion Roger Federer and two-time winner Rafael Nadal both won in straight sets Saturday to move closer to a semifinal showdown. Federer’s record 17th visit to the fourth round at Wimbledon will come against No. 17 Matteo Berrettini, an Italian never before this far at the grass-court tournament.

“For me, I’m very happy how it’s going so far,” said Federer, a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (4) winner over No. 27 Lucas Pouille. “I hope it’s going to take a special performance from somebody to stop me, not just a mediocre performance.”

Nadal, who defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, meets unseeded Joao Sousa next.

No. 8 Kei Nishikori meets Mikhail Kukushkin, and Sam Querrey plays Tennys Sandgren in the first Week 2 matchup at Wimbledon between two American men since Pete Sampras beat Jan-Michael Gambill in the 2000 quarterfinals.

Kukushkin’s four-set victory over Jan-Lennard Struff at Court 12 was interrupted when a 60-year-old female spectator had to be resuscitated after collapsing.

Sandgren beat No. 12 Fabio Fognini 6-3, 7-6 (12), 6-3 at tiny Court 14, with its 318 seating capacity. Fognini unleashed a tirade in Italian at one moment, saying he wanted a bomb to explode at the All England Club. He later said his comments came in the heat of the moment because he was upset about not playing well and the condition of the court’s grass.

“If I offended anyone, I apologize,” said the volatile Fognini, who was fined $27,500 at Wimbledon in 2014 for unsportsmanlike conduct and is in a Grand Slam probationary period after getting kicked out of the 2017 U.S. Open. “That definitely wasn’t my intention.”

WIMBLEDON: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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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 Olympia 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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