Since winning her last title while eight weeks pregnant – at the Australian Open, 2017 – Serena Williams has been within touching distance of Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record.
The American great has fallen at the final hurdle on two occasions since her return to the tour as a mother but at 37 she has given herself a third opportunity to hit the 24-Slam mark.
Her last major final ended in controversy as she berated umpire Carlos Ramos and was docked a game in one of the most dramatic US Open finals in living memory. Some suggested the pressure of matching Court’s record played a role in her on-court meltdown.
A repeat performance of September’s drama seems highly unlikely but victory is far from guaranteed against experienced campaigner Simona Halep.
But, despite the result, Williams insists she is remaining ‘calm’ as she looks to secure her first major title as a mother.
‘I thought about it this morning,’ Williams said after thrashing Barbora Strycova 6-1 6-2. ‘I actually didn’t think about it since because it’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25.
‘It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career. I don’t know. Like, I just kind of let it go this morning. Yeah, I feel really calm about it.
‘I had to get to those finals, looking back, to even be in those two finals last year was unbelievable. Now I’m in a different place. Like I just am more calm. Instead of having nothing to lose, I feel like I have things to lose, but I also have nothing to lose. It’s like I’m in the middle.
‘I really want to do it. I’m in a different place because I wasn’t really playing a month ago, like, at all. So it’s all kind of coming together. I can’t really put how I’m taking it.’
Standing across the net from her in Saturday’s final will be a player who she’s beaten nine of 10 times, including the last six.
But the diminutive former world No. 1 and French Open champion is confident of getting the better her final opponent.
‘Yeah, I played many matches against her,’ Halep said after her 6-1 6-3 win against Elina Svitolina. ‘Many of them were very close.
‘I have learned that I have the chance. Now, if I face her, I will believe that I have my chance to win against her. Of course, I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing.
‘But now I feel stronger mentally facing her. We will see what is going to happen. It’s just a big challenge for me.’
The most recent of those defeats came in the Australian Open fourth round, with the Romanian narrowly losing 6-4 in the third.
‘I take the positive and also the disappointment that I couldn’t win that match,’ Halep added. ‘It was really important at that point. But still, I played a good tennis even if I was not 100% prepared to start the Grand Slam.
‘The fact that I was so close gave me confidence for the next match. But now it’s grass. It’s final of Grand Slam. So the things are different.
Most Grand Slam titles (men and women)
24 – Court
23 – Williams
22 – Graf
20 – Federer
19 – Wills Moody
18 – Nadal
18 – Evert
18 – Navratilova
15 – Djokovic
14 – Sampras
12 – King
12 – Emerson
11 – Borg
11 – Laver
‘I’m not going to comment a lot about this because I don’t know what is going to happen. But now I’m more confident.’
So will she stop Williams from making more history?
‘I’m desperate to win Wimbledon more than to stop her,’ Halep added. ‘I will focus on myself. I’m not thinking about her record.’
Williams is certainly wary of the threat the Romanian poses.
‘There’s so many impressive things about her,’ said the 37-year-old. ‘I think obviously her tenacity. I think her ability to improve every time, just to keep improving. Her ability to find power. Can’t underestimate her. She’s like a little powerhouse.
‘Obviously, yeah, she finished the year No. 1 twice in a row. I feel like she’s back. She wants to prove that she can do it again.’
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