Sunday 26 May 2019

Serena again proves to be the mother superior

Serena Williams hits a return shot during her victory over Evgeniya Rodina. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA
Serena Williams hits a return shot during her victory over Evgeniya Rodina. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

Mick Cleary

These two working mothers had different tales to tell when they caught up with their respective offspring for tea-time jam sandwiches and apple juice.

There was never any danger of Serena Williams being late for such a cherished rendezvous, spurred on by her quest for immortality as much as by any maternal instincts.

Her opponent, the only qualifier left in the draw, the 29-year-old Russian Evgeniya Rodina, briefly threatened to delay the inevitable when breaking Williams midway through the second set but that was just the nudge the seven-time Wimbledon champion needed, finishing off her opponent without further demur, 6-2, 6-2, in a shade over an hour to reach her 13th Wimbledon quarter-final.

Williams has her sights set on first emulating and then eclipsing Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam titles and with seeds in the women's singles falling as readily as Cabinet ministers, who would bet against her sealing the first part of the deal on Saturday?


The US Open in seven weeks' time could be the putative crowning of Williams as the greatest of all time. On this evidence it is certainly not a fanciful plot line, even if the physical strain after so long an absence is sure to become more of a factor in these Championships.

Another Wimbledon win would certainly give working mums a good name, as if they ever needed it.

"It's really cool," said Williams. "It shows that you can be a working mum and still be a Wimbledon quarter-finalist. I have a long way to go yet but I am getting there."

The particular power that is the hallmark of Williams' game was produced at just the right moments in what was a more tricky encounter at times than the scoreline might indicate. The big booming serve and the spiffing forehand were unleashed whenever there was the merest hint of danger.

It was only fitting that Williams should take her place in the Centre Court Parade of Champions, her match booked-ended by those featuring Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, even if 10-month-old daughter, Alexis Olympia, now also has claim on her time as well as her emotional empathy.

There are 60 Grand Slams in the collective trophy cabinets of that trio and there is little sign of the locks going rusty from lack of use.

Far from being a distraction, Williams' changed status appears to have given her even more drive if for no other reason that she realises the clock is ticking on her remarkable career.

"I'm a perfectionist," said Williams after what looked to be a routine romp. "I will always find something wrong."

It is the rest of the draw versus Williams from hereon in. Serena's most serious rival looks to be Serena, although the merits of Angelique Kerber or Jelena Ostapenko are considerable.

Williams did occasionally falter but with a slap of the thigh or a roar of exhortation, normal service was soon resumed and the 36-year-old went through to meet the Italian, Camila Giorgi, on Centre Court today.

Rodina had strapping on her right knee and left thigh to aid movement but she could have been on an electric bicycle and not reached some of Williams' screamers cross-court or down the line.

And then it was back to mothering duties for the pair of them, with Rodina's five-year-old daughter, Anna, in the Wimbledon creche, as well as a catch-up on World Cup football news for Serena.

"Seeing all the English get so excited you can't help but root for the team," said Williams. "Oh my God, what a game that was. Those goals were just incredible. They really brought, like, a power game to that.

"I thought that was really cool. I just love it. The World Cup is a special time. I'm like, 'Oh, only two more matches, then one more. What is going to happen to my life after that?'."

Tennis fans will be thinking exactly the same about the Serena Williams era.

Catch it while you can.

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