After a long wait, the World No. 1 Serena Williams finally equalled German legend Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam titles as she beat fourth seed Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 at the All England Club in London on Saturday. The match lasted 1 hour 21 minutes.
Serena finished with 39 winners – 27 more than her vanquished opponent. Her serve definitely was the talking point as she thundered down 13 aces to none for Kerber.
This was their first meeting since the Australian Open final in January where the German played an exceptional match to upset Serena for her maiden Major title. As for Williams, her seventh title at SW19 comes after a one-year Slam drought after falling at the semi-finals of the US Open and the finals of both the Australian Open and the French Open this year.
First set: After holding her own service game with commendable ease, Serena put pressure on the Kerber serve with her fabulous returns. The German struggled to keep up with the top seed, who showed fine movement and tried to throw Kerber off-balance with her deft touches at the net. But the German was determined not to cave in and she survived three break points to eke out a mighty hold for 1-1.
Serena’s backhand looked devastating and her proclivity for moving forward paid rich dividends as the fourth seed lost the point nearly every time the American approached the net. Her 73% success at the net corroborates that. Irrespective of the intensity of the Serena returns, Kerber looked more and more comfortable once she settled into the match and the set was all square till 3-3.
In the seventh game, a 21-shot rally that brought out the loudest of applause from the crowd, showcased the excellent defensive skills of both the women. The fired-up German closed in on Serena and made it a deuce game but the World No. 1 had the last word to edge ahead 4-3. The 34-year-old next moved the southpaw all over the court to sneak in to 30-30 on the German’s service game but was unable to break the Kerber serve.
Freed after the hold, the 28-year-old looked at another chance to raid the Serena bastion and made it another deuce game. But the American managed to steady herself after a fall and ultimately held the fort for 5-4. The Australian Open champion still kept on pushing hard but Serena, as always, had her very reliable serve to bail her out whenever she needed it the most.
Comfortably perched at 6-5 on the board, Serena became relentless on Kerber’s serve and the German readily obliged courtesy of a forehand and a backhand error. The fourth seed did save one of the two set points but was unable to stop the Serena charge when her forehand fell on her side of the court.
Second set: Kerber regrouped well from that setback and the second set went on serve. The fourth game oozed with brilliance from each player. Kerber’s mind-boggling defense reached its climax and she squeezed in an over-the-net winner and then succeeded in moving Serena from side to side for a 2-2 hold.
Conditions remained as blustery as they were when the match started and that cost Serena a vital point as she threw in her second double fault of the match. But she was still able to carve out the game in the face of some remarkable Kerber onslaught. Serena once more took on the role of the aggressor and closed in to 30-30 on her opponent’s serve. An amazing 19-shot rally ensued on the next point that Kerber won, showing all her guts.
After the hold, the emboldened Kerber reached a break point on the Serena serve – her first of the match. But the mighty World No. 1 snuffed it out and won her service game, riding on her 12th and 13th aces of the match.
That probably proved to be the final nail in the coffin as Kerber, despite all her admirable efforts, could never recover from it. She finally cracked and Serena broke for a 5-3 lead. Like a champion that she is, Williams brought out three magnificent serves and then finished with a wondrous volley for her Open Era record-equalling 22nd Slam title.