This was not just more of the same for Serena Williams, another Wimbledon, another championship. No, what’s lost is that this was a great comeback story for her.
Two years ago, she won Wimbledon and seemed unbeatable. Since then, she had been beaten down. A foot injury followed by life-threatening blood clots in her lungs. Then, lost confidence followed by lost composure.
Her match Saturday, like her life the past two years, was filled with crazy ups and downs. And how does her story end? Williams beat Aga Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 to win her fifth Wimbledon title.
She dropped to her back on the court in joy, then climbed into the stands and hugged her dad and her mom and sister Venus, as well as her other sisters. Then she broke into tears while publicly thanking friends and family who were with her in the hospital day after day.
“There was a moment, I just remember, I was on the couch and I didn’t leave the whole day, for two days,’’ she said later. “I was praying, like `I can’t take any more. I’ve endured enough.’ Let me be able to get through this. I was just so tired at that point.
“I had a tube in my stomach and it was draining constantly. Gosh, I mean, right before that I had the blood clot. I had lung problems. You know, then I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot. It was a lot. I felt like I didn’t do anything to bring on that.’’
Even the post-match photo shoot with the Venus Rosewater Dish was different. Usually, a player kisses it; Rafael Nadal bites it. Williams held it over her head, smiled, jumped up and down, laughed. She was a kid again, in a 30-year-old body.
A few minutes after leaving the court, she went on her Twitter account and detailed her feelings:
That’s 42 a’s.
Williams now has equaled Venus in Wimbledon titles. Imagine that: Two sisters from Compton, Calif., 10 Wimbledons in the past 13 years. Amazing. It has been so long that sometimes you just take it for granted. But they continue to make a mark on a sport that has needed and continues to need them.
And Wimbledon, with all its symbolism of the sport’s past, is the best place for them.
“I’ve always wanted everything that Venus has had, so . . . ’’ Serena told the Wimbledon crowd, looking at Venus and laughing. “Thank you, too, Venus, for your advice during the rain delay. I had to copy you again. So sorry.’’
There is no doubt Serena ended up as the better tennis players between sisters. But now, with 14 major championships, where does that put her in history?
I’m going with second best ever, just behind Steffi Graf. John McEnroe said on the BBC that she needs three more major championships to get into the discussion of best ever.
That would put her one behind Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who had 18 apiece. But Williams has 14 majors to Graf’s 22. Williams has won 42 tournaments overall to Graf’s 107. Williams has spent 123 weeks at No. 1 to Graf’s 377. They played each other twice, splitting the matches.
Williams passes the eye test, though. She is much more athletic and powerful than Navratilova or Evert ever were, and she has a much better serve. If Navratilova started to change the look of women’s tennis by adding muscle and power, Williams took it up another few levels.
Well, the men’s final is Sunday, between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, who is trying to break a Chicago Cubs-like stretch of British players failing to win Wimbledon. Murray said he hopes the Queen will come, but there is no word on that. I’m available for a carpool, if she pitches in a few pounds for petrol.
While Murray might get the Queen, Williams got . . . Sir Charles.
Fair trade. Charles Barkley did ESPN’s pre-match “Breakfast at Wimbledon’’ show, then sat in the players box with Williams’ family.
Williams had had trouble with her emotions the past several months. At the US Open final, she went into a strange rant at a chair umpire, calling her a “hater’’ and “unattractive inside.’’ At the Australian Open, Williams played poorly and lost early. At the French Open, she was about to win in the first round, then fell apart, broke into tears and lost.
Even earlier in this tournament, she was having trouble finding, as she put it, “calmness of mind.’’ She went to Venus and their father, Richard, for advice.
Then she started rolling.
On Saturday, she almost pulled off one of the most dominant blowouts in Wimbledon finals history. Radwanska would have moved to No. 1 in the rankings with a win. (Instead, Victoria Azarenka, whom Williams beat in the semifinals, will be there.)
Williams was ahead 6-1, 4-2, and the match looked like one player from the 1960s or 1970s vs. one from modern times. Radwanska is small and weak with a lollipop serve. Serena is twice her size with double the power.
It looked like a tennis history lesson. Radwanska should have been playing in black and white, and Serena in color.
But getting close to the finish, Williams started to lose her calm again. Up a service break at 4-3, Williams had break point against her. She crushed a serve, the weapon that carried her for two weeks, and Radwanska barely got it back. The return would have left Williams with an easy winner, but the serve was called out.
Williams challenged the call, and the replay showed that it was so far in that it hadn’t even touched the line. Williams had to replay the point. She lost it, and the game, and the lead in the set, and all of her momentum. And Radwanska, with soft hands and nice touch, started showing why she was ranked so high.
“She started playing excellent grass-court tennis,’’ Williams said, “and I panicked a little bit.’’
But this time, she found a way to regain her calm. Trailing 2-1 in the third set, her next game went like this:
Ace. Ace. Ace. Ace.
From there, she dominated.
So many highs and lows for Williams the past two years — and over 121 minutes Saturday. It was only the conclusion that we had no way of knowing.
Another Wimbledon, another championship. That was it. I guess, then, it was more of the same for Williams.