History is now Williams' only real rival

Serena Williams, celebrating her Wimbledon triumph, now wants to be the fourth woman to complete the Grand Slam.
Serena Williams, celebrating her Wimbledon triumph, now wants to be the fourth woman to complete the Grand Slam.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Three years had passed since the Wimbledon champion's trophy was last in her possession, so Serena Williams had some fun with it.

She held it high on Centre Court with both strong arms. She balanced it on her head like a book in a 1950s charm school and walked with it. At one stage, she even playfully declined to hand it back to a Wimbledon official.

Winning Wimbledon - which Williams has now done six times - is normally a sufficient thrill on its own. And Saturday's 6-4, 6-4 victory over Spain's Garbine Muguruza, which made the 33-year-old Williams the oldest Wimbledon singles champion of the Open era, was a remarkably pleasant contrast to her dark experience at the All England Club a year ago.

Then, she lost in the third round in singles and then stumbled around the grass in a doubles match before retiring.

She cited a virus, yet was going through a difficult off-court period as well, according to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

But Williams has proved nothing if not resilient during her increasingly phenomenal career - coming back from major health scares, downward tennis spirals, family troubles and tragedy, particularly the 2003 murder of her half-sister Yetunde Price.

Williams' mental strength, at this stage, looks much more like a fact than a subject of debate, and she will now need to test its limits again as she chases the ultimate tennis achievement - the Grand Slam - at this year's US Open.

"You better ask all your questions about the Grand Slam, because it will be banned soon," she joked to a small group of reporters shortly after her victory.

With her victory at Wimbledon, Williams now holds all four Grand Slam singles titles - the so-called Serena Slam, which she also achieved across 2002 and 2003.

But neither that run nor this one was the true Grand Slam, which is done in the same calendar year.

Only three women have managed it: Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988.

For the first time since Graf, someone will arrive at Flushing Meadows with the first three legs of the Grand Slam completed.

Unlike Graf, a German, Williams will be playing at home. She said: "Hopefully, people would be really cheering me on, to like push me over the edge and give me that extra strength I need to go for this historic moment."

At this stage, history has become Williams' major muse and only real rival. She is now 39-1 this season, although she has had plenty of anxious moments.

The latest was her third-round match at Wimbledon, when she was two points from defeat against Briton Heather Watson.

But Williams righted herself and then defeated three former No. 1 players - her sister Venus, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova - before overcoming the tall and big-hitting 21-year-old Muguruza, who had upset Williams in last year's French Open second round.

Despite the routine scoreline this time, victory did not come easily. Muguruza displayed few signs of nerves and plenty of clarity of purpose in the opening phase of the match and took a 4-2 lead in the first set before Williams grabbed the momentum.

"It was hardly her best match of the tournament, but it was the match she needed to win, and she did it," said Mouratoglou, who has helped Williams win eight of the past 13 major singles titles since joining her team before Wimbledon in 2012.

As for the Grand Slam, he said: "She'll have stress at the US Open. But she showed again here that even when she had stress, she managed to shake free and win. It's one of her characteristics."

Williams has 21 major singles titles, putting her just one behind Graf, whose 22 are the best of the Open era, and three behind Court, who won a total of 24.

Her first was at the 1999 US Open and she has endured like few athletes in any sport. She will return to New York with a chance to scale tennis' highest peak.

"There's a reason," she said, "that it's been 27 years since it's been done." NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'History is now Williams' only real rival'. Print Edition | Subscribe