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A Look At Serena Williams • Wimbledon 2019 • A Truly Remarkable Champion

Serena Williams of the USA in action against Alison Riske of the USA during their quarter final match for the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 09 July 2019. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO COMMERCIAL SALES

By Alix Ramsay

 

People can say what they like about Serena Williams – and they have over the years, some of it nice, some of it less so – but there is no arguing with the fact that she is a truly remarkable champion.

 

When she first arrived in Wimbledon this summer, she was an unknown quantity. She claimed that she had had treatment on her knee and that she was now fit and ready to play properly. But then she played Giulia Gatto-Monticone in the first round and she looked heavy-footed, sluggish and a shadow of the player who had dominated the All England Club courts in the past.

 

Fast forward eight days and Serena is sitting in the semi-finals with only Barbora Strycova standing between her and another final. “Only” is doing Strycova a disservice – she played brilliantly to oust Johanna Konta on Tuesday but asking her to do that again against a champion like Serena may be asking her one question too many.

 

To get there, Serena beat Alison Riske 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and this Serena was a different woman from the one who had spluttered through the first round. She was back to her battling best mentally and even if there are still kinks to be ironed out in her game, she is getting better with every match. Oh, talking of matches, she and the Muzz won in mixed on Tuesday, too. The more matches the merrier.

 

“I haven’t had a tremendous amount of time to prepare for this,” she said. “But, you know, like I said in the beginning of this tournament, each and every match for me has to count as, like, five or ten matches because I have not played a lot.

 

“This is the first time since Australia that I actually felt, like, good. It’s been a really, really long year for me already, and hard year, because I’m usually not typically injured.

 

“I don’t know where I am [in terms of fitness]. I do know I feel good. Now that I feel good, I can actually focus on training and technique and practice, something that I just literally haven’t been able to do a lot of.”

 

Against Riske, she had to find the old Serena again, the champion Serena, because Riske was not going away. When she came at the former world No.1 in the second set and dug in for the third, there was that nagging worry that it would be too much, too soon in the Williams comeback. But then the fist-pumping, doggedly determined side of Serena appeared… and Riske was toast.

 

“I believe in myself,” she said. “I believe if I’m feeling well, I can be a big competitor in a sport that I love and I’ve done so well at. So just the key word is getting fit and getting back into match play injury-free.

 

“So now that I am, I can kind of actually start to, like I say, just play tennis. That has been literally something that I have not been able to do all year.”

 

The draw has not so much opened up as fallen apart and, as it has done so, Serena’s antenna must have been twitching. In theory, she should have faced Ash Barty rather than Riske on Tuesday and she should be playing Petra Kvitova rather than Strycova on Thursday. But the other grand slam champions have taken the early bath and the oldest champion of them all is still in town. And her eyes are fixed on that elusive 24th grand slam trophy, the one that will match Margaret Court’s record tally.

 

Actually, for the moment they are fixed on the diminutive Strycova – Serena is not daft enough to get ahead of herself at this stage. Not now that she has come so far, so fast.

 

“She’s a really good grass court player,” Serena said. “Like today I played an unbelievable grass court player. So is Barbora. She’s good on the grass. She knows what to do. She has a good all-around game. She’s incredibly tricky.

 

“It’s definitely not easy. But it’s something I’m definitely geared up for. Just to be out here, just go out there and do, like, the best that I can.”

 

She will have all the experience on her side – Strycova has only played three matches on Centre Court and one of them was on Tuesday – she will have all the obvious grass court strengths on her side, not to mention the memory of those seven titles she has won on the little patch of grass. But she will still get the jitters as she walks from the locker room, through the club house and on to the court.

 

“I get a little nervous, you know,” she said. “I get excited because I know that it’s going to be another opportunity to just do what I do best.”

 

And when she does what she does best, there is no one to match her. She really is a truly remarkable champion.

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