There are, of course, many reasons why Serena Williams has been as successful as she’s been, for as long as she’s been.
The serve. The returns. The groundstrokes. The court coverage. And more.
A little insight into one aspect of the way she approaches matches arrived via her answer to a question looking ahead to Saturday’s Wimbledon final against No. 7-seeded Simona Halep.
Williams, who can collect her eighth title at the All England Club and 24th Grand Slam singles trophy over all, was asked why she’s been able to accumulate a 9-1 head-to-head mark against the Romanian.
“The biggest key with our matches is the loss that I had. I never forgot it. She played unbelievable,” Williams said. “That makes me know that level she played at – she can get there again. So I have to be better than that.”
Doesn’t matter, apparently, that the result came all the way back in 2014, in a relatively inconsequential round-robin meeting at the season-ending championships. Or that Williams soundly beat Halep later at that same tournament. Or that Williams won their only match-up this season, at the Australian Open in January.
If it’s going to help to have a reminder that Halep is capable of beating her because she did beat her once, why not focus on that?
Plus, Williams enters her 11th final at the All England Club well aware that she has lost her past two championship matches at Grand Slam tournaments – against Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon and against Naomi Osaka at the U.S. Open, both in 2018.
The latter descended into chaos after Williams was penalized a game for a heated argument with the chair umpire. She said in a first-person essay she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar that she met with a therapist and wrote to Osaka to apologize for the whole episode.
As for the loss to Kerber at the All England Club?
“I don’t remember much. I just remember I was tired and Angie played unbelievable. I actually was sad, but I was also proud of myself. There was nothing I could do in that match. I did everything I could. Physically I just wasn’t there,” Williams said Thursday after easily winning her semi-final 6-1, 6-2 against Barbara Strycova.
“I remember after that, I just trained and I trained and I trained to get physically more fit. So I’m definitely at a different place,” Williams said. “Yeah, I didn’t have the preparation coming into Wimbledon of training for two weeks, even. So that would have been nice.”
She’s been dealing with those sorts of issues since returning to the tour last year after taking time off while having a baby.
Now her daughter, Olympia, is nearly 2; Williams held her in an arm while cooling down on a stationary bike at the All England Club this week.
After hurting an ankle in an Australian Open quarter-final match, Williams ended up wasting a big lead and exiting. Then she pulled out of matches or missed tournaments entirely because of an illness or a bad left knee.
Following a third-round loss at the French Open on June 1, Williams had treatment in Paris before resuming preparations about 1½ weeks before Wimbledon began.
Look where she is now.
“I’m in a different place, because I wasn’t really playing a month ago, like, at all,” said Williams, who thinks her partnership with Andy Murray in mixed doubles at Wimbledon helped her volleying in singles. “So it’s all kind of coming together.”
That sentiment sounds like it could be trouble for Halep, who is 1-3 in Grand Slam finals so far, with the one title coming at Roland Garros last year.
This will be Halep’s first final at Wimbledon. The opponent is not ideal.
“I’m desperate to win Wimbledon more than to stop her,” said Halep, who defeated Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-3 in the semi-finals. “I will focus on myself.”