Tuesday 16 January 2018

History beckons as Serena eyes second 'full house'

Garbine Muguruza beat Agnieszka Radwanska and now meets Serena Williams
Garbine Muguruza beat Agnieszka Radwanska and now meets Serena Williams

Daniel Schofield

After dispensing with Maria Sharapova in the semi-final with the absent-minded effort you might employ in popping bubblewrap, the real game started for Serena Williams in her press conference yesterday.

The rules are as follows: using all manner of linguistic ambushes, journalists attempt to ask about the significance of the Serena Slam; Williams, with weary resignation, bats them away.

"I don't want the pressure of that, and I'm not thinking of that. When you talk about it every time, you can't help but think about it. It's been OK just to free my brain from that."

Refusing to acknowledge it, however, does not make it any less real. History, as well as Garbine Muguruza, will be standing on the opposite side of the net on Centre Court today.

As champion of the US, Australian and French Opens, Williams is one victory away from holding the set simultaneously - the full house - as she did in 2003, as well as completing the third leg of a calendar slam.

Rarely has a grand slam final thrown up such a disparity in experience.

Muguruza, the 21-year-old from Barcelona, only recently entered the top 20; Williams has been world No 1 for 124 consecutive weeks. Muguruza has one title to her name (Hobart in 2014); Williams has 67.

Muguruza has never previously progressed this far at a slam; Williams will be playing for her 21st grand slam title, one short of Steffi Graf's record, 16 years after the first at Flushing Meadows.

In the intervening period, Williams' burning desire for victory in climbing the mountain was replaced by a pathological fear of defeat, of losing her place at the top of the rung rather than a fixation in passing a particular milestone.

"I don't think it's got easier," Williams said. "I just think I don't feel as desperate to win. I think it helps me be relaxed. I was so desperate to get to 18, and ever since then, I've been totally relaxed.

"I've won so many grand slam titles. I don't need to win another Wimbledon. I could lose.

"But I really hate losing. So I'm that kind of person that will work hard, work harder than anybody else to make sure I don't get that. If I do, I learn from it better. That way I don't have to do it in a long time."

It is that attitude that has elevated the 33-year-old to a pantheon of her own making in a sport in which most of her contemporaries have long since retired.

"It's strange because a lot of the people I grew up with are now on the legends tour," she reflected. "It's like, 'should I play legends as well as the main?'"

Williams was very keen to remind everyone that she has lost to Muguruza, at the 2014 French Open, which she believes inspired an about-turn in her fortunes.

"It was an eye-opening loss for me," Williams said. "Some losses you're angry about, and some losses you learn from. That loss I think I learnt the most from in a long time. I got so much better after that loss. Months later I started seeing the results more and more.

"I don't think she's intimidated at all. She's not that kind of person."

The Spaniard with the million-dollar smile accepts she must puncture the Williams aura if she is to put a spoke in the wheels of history.

"Beating her is really important because it makes you see and realise that she's also a person, she also has feelings, she is also nervous," she said.

"To her, she knows that I can win against her, that I'm not afraid.

"I don't think she's really used to this. It's true that it's a very difficult match, but I think I have to believe I can do it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Ladies final, Live, BBC/Setanta, 2.0

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