Monday 24 October 2016

Unstoppable Williams seals Serena Slam

Kevin Mitchell

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Serena Williams in relaxed mood after a training session at Wimbledon
Serena Williams in relaxed mood after a training session at Wimbledon

If Serena Williams can survive her recurring, inexplicable dips in power and concentration and yet prevail against a young contender as talented as Garbine Muguruza to win her sixth Wimbledon title and her 21st major, she is well-placed to continue breaking records for as long as her body allows.

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There is nobody to stop her. It is that simple. Heather Watson gave her a fright in the third round and Victoria Azarenka stretched her to the limit in the quarter-finals. But Maria Sharapova, her supposed arch-rival, folded in the semis, leaving it to the young Spanish star Garbine Muguruza to take her to the wire in yesterday's final.

Williams, at 33, became the oldest Slam champion of the modern era by beating her opponent, 12 years her junior, 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 23 minutes, thrilling Centre Court with a coronation final that briefly looked like turning into an insurrection. Instead, Williams came through as the holder of all four majors for the first time since she had the honour in 2003, putting her in sight of Steffi Graf's 22 majors and Margaret Court's 24.

If she retains the US Open, she will become only the fourth woman to claim a calendar-year Grand Slam. That is a lot to celebrate, but it might all have turned horribly wrong. The best player in the world did not make it easy for herself in this her 25th Slam final. It is all very well having the biggest serve in tennis, but if you fail to land six of them in the box in the first game of a Grand Slam final against a hungry player such as Muguruza, life gets complicated. Spanish eyes lit up when Muguruza's vaunted opponent gifted her the first game on the fourth break point, pushing a trembling backhand long after seven worrying minutes.

There was no early peace for Williams, no room for her to work her way into the match as Muguruza drew on the experience of having beaten her so handily in her troubled times at the French Open in 2014, when the Spaniard was ranked 35.

That was a shock, even though Williams was not at her best. These were different circumstances. Muguruza, seeded 20th, had worked her way through the draw, finishing off the challenges of Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska to earn a place in her first Slam final. Her confidence and daring were sky-high.

She held for two-love and took two points off the Williams serve before the world No 1 got a grip. It finally clicked and she trailed 1-2 after quarter of an hour. She had a look at deuce in the fourth game, but her footwork was sluggish and her face anguished; she had plenty of catching up to do. A second ace settled her nerves as she held in the fifth, but she still struggled for rhythm. Muguruza was hanging tough and saved two break points to maintain her lead. The question that whispered its way around Centre Court now was: could she keep it up and take the first set?

After half an hour, Williams struck something like her best form, but her ground strokes and balance needed work. She got another two break points, the first saved by the Spaniard's second ace, the second surrendered with a loose forehand, and they were back to parity. A fourth double-fault did not slow Williams, and Muguruza found herself serving to stay in the set 20 minutes after having the world No 1 at her mercy. After an ace got her to game point, she hit wide for deuce then double-faulted. Williams had set point and took it with an angry, relieved forehand.

Soon, the familiar pattern emerged: an opponent in contention introduced to the reality of sustaining the challenge. Williams broke, held and was 3-1 up in the second and banging down her eighth ace nearly an hour after those three double-faults gave Muguruza hope. A ninth ace induced panic at the other end and the Spaniard's forehand drifted long. Williams was now a couple of games away from confirming her dominance, if she could crack Muguruza's serve again. But Muguruza was not done and broke her to love in the seventh game.

The ninth game of the second set encapsulated the struggle. The world No 1 double-faulted for the eighth time and faced three break points. But she struck a 10th ace for 30-40 and one more for deuce. Her 12th, at 121 miles an hour, delivered her championship point, but Muguruza saved, advancing to the net to land a forehand in the deuce corner. They both hit long, Muguruza by a millimetre, within the margin of error. Williams netted a forehand from the baseline and the crowd went wild as the Spaniard lived again. She took it with a belting backhand for 4-5, and the mood of the match was transformed yet again.

The end could hardly have been a greater anticlimax. Muguruza double-faulted for the second time; Williams got the benefit of a kind net cord; Muguruza hit long, then just wide - and the deed was done.


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