Nirmal Shekar

Magnificent Serena pulls up alongside Graf

For Serena Williams, the journey has just begun. It is one that only a handful of athletes get the chance to undertake. But it is also one that has left some of the greatest sportspersons we know frustrated and defeated. It is not a simple road trip but a daunting trek up the tallest of peaks.

And on a glorious Saturday afternoon, in bright sunshine, Serena sighted the peak as she pulled alongside Steffi Graf, widely acclaimed as the greatest champion of the Open Era.

As she out-hit a resolute Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the 130th Wimbledon tennis championship, it brought the American her 22nd Grand Slam singles title — the same number that Kerber’s idol and sometime advisor won.

From the time she first won a Grand Slam title as a teenager, it was clear to a few of us that here was a woman who could one day become a great champion. But along the way there were distractions — trying to become a designer — and a curious attitude to the profession that, to this day, has seldom denied her the highest of honours when she committed herself to it 100 per cent.

If, for a time, it appeared that she may not be prepared for that monkish life, then the entry of Patrick Mouratoglou to her entourage following a first round exit at Roland Garros in 2012 changed everything.

Mouratoglou was more than just a coach as he told her she could become the best of all time, and his constant presence in the players’ box infused life in an already very good champion. From that point, she has won nine out of the 17 Grand Slam championships she has played.

And now, after matching the great Graf, what is in Serena’s sights is the ascent from the land of the great to the solitary spot reserved at the mother of all peaks, to the greatest of them all. With the great champion displaying no signs of slowing down, the hardest part of the journey continues. Where it will leave her is a matter of conjecture.

“Thanks to my family and thank you all,” said Serena, not long after raising two fingers of each hand, signalling title number 22.

“I have always enjoyed playing Angelique. She brings out the best in me,” said the champion.

Last year, after winning here, she became the oldest woman to win a Major title in the Open Era, at 33 years and 289 days. A year older, she still seems hungrier than ever.

Kerber, for her part, is a tough and combative competitor. She did not simply give the match away to Serena. It was only at the Australian Open this year that the German left-hander had beaten Serena to stop her short of Graf’s record.

Graf knows Kerber well, and she had invited the young woman to come and spend some time with her in Las Vegas where she spent three unforgettable days practising and playing with Graf and her husband Andre Agassi. Time was also spent on listening to the German great’s advice over the breakfast or dinner table, with Graf telling the younger woman that the first step to glory is to believe in herself.

That is all very well, but it is just that such advice alone cannot help Kerber beat Serena on grass at Wimbledon, especially when the great lady is serving as well as she did in the final.

Serena hit 13 aces, some of them in the face of adversity, and never gave the German a chance to get into the match. Her judicious sorties to the net also served her well as she won 10 points out of 12 approaches.

With her powerful forehand and double-handed backhand, Serena moved Kerber from end to end. She had learnt her lessons from the Melbourne loss very well, as she herself acknowledged.

Kerber might have seen something like a sliver of hope in the seventh game of the second set as she set up her only break-point of the match with some good returns.

And Serena’s reply was immediate and heart-breaking (for the German): ace, ace and a great backhand winner at the net.

“I knew this was not going to be an easy match. I told myself to keep calm. At one point in the first set, I felt really stressed. Then after winning the first set, I calmed down and it helped,” said Serena.

“I had to look at the positives and not think about the negatives. I have had great dreams. I did not come from money or anything. You just have to work hard for what you want,” said Serena.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 6:41:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/Magnificent-Serena-pulls-up-alongside-Graf/article14479924.ece

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