No one saw this coming, and why would they? Serena Williams arrived in Saturday’s Wimbledon final on fire, having convincingly beaten all opponents in the six prior rounds. Williams was peaking just in time for the final. No one beats her when she’s peaking.
Yet Williams was thwarted at last year’s Wimbledon in the final, losing to Angelique Kerber. Then the scene repeated itself at the U.S. Open, when Williams lost to Naomi Osaka. So … no … people didn’t see it coming Saturday on Centre Court. They didn’t expect a speedy and focused Simona Halep could or would defeat the “greatest of all time” 6-2, 6-2, in less than an hour.
Williams’ record of achievement is profound; and, let’s be honest, we wanted to witness her win that elusive 24th, that record established by Margaret Court decades ago.
Facts are stubborn, though. Williams has not won a major since the 2017 Australian Open. A multitude of factors lead to that record, one being the birth of her daughter, another one being the reality of nagging injuries, the latest to her right knee. However, nerves have led to losses as well. Then comes low confidence.
Halep went up 4-0 in 11 minutes and broke Williams early in the second set. It didn’t stop there.
“Patrick Mouratoglou at a loss for words, too,” Chris Evert surmised on ESPN, when Halep had won the first set and broken to 4-2 in the second. “[Serena] desperately needs this game.”
“She [Halep] is controlling the points,” Evert pointedly said. “Not many people can do that against Serena.”
Yet she did, becoming the first Romanian woman to win Wimbledon.
“Want to thank my country,” Halep told Sue Barker on court, holding the coveted Venus Rosewater Dish. “Mr. Tiriac, thank you for supporting me. It’s been great.”
Halep has had to nurture her love for grass courts. She likes to slide. She likes a higher bounce. Both are clay-court qualities. Although the grass planted on Wimbledon’s lawns has not changed for 18 years, the ground it is planted in is harder than ever and the balls bounce higher. At the end of the fortnight the courts are like hardcourts.
“It was the best match,” Halep said. “I have worked a lot. It was never easy on grass. I started to feel the game and ball here. I can’t wait to come back, actually.”
Halep’s parents, who were on hand for the win, were on Halep’s mind as well.
“It was my mom’s dream. She said I have to play the final in Wimbledon. Thanks to my parents.”
Halep seemed to turn into a blushing teenager (she’s 27) when Barker mentioned the royal family.
“I said to people in tournament at the beginning that if I won I’d get a membership for life,” Halep began. “It was motivation. So, now I’m happy.”
Soon afterward, Halep curtsied to the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, inside Center Court.
“Really well done,” the Duchess said to Halep. “It was incredible to watch.”
In her chat with Barker, Williams was exact in her assessment of the match: “She literally played out of her mind. I was a little bit of a deer in headlights.”
Williams assured the capacity crowd she’d “keep fighting and trying,” but her words hinted at disappointment because Williams does not like to lose. No champion does.
In 2015, Serena had attempted a calendar-year Grand Slam but lost in the semifinals at the U.S. Open. Since then, women’s majors have produced a lot of different champions. From the start of 2016 through this Wimbledon, only one player — Angelique Kerber in 2016 — has won more than one major title in a calendar year. The multitude of champions does say that the women’s game is diverse and has deep talent. It also tells Serena Williams that winning is never a sure thing, that time waits for no one
“Everything clicked for her today,” Evert said about Halep.
That’s not what we expected to hear. Sports rarely conforms. That’s one reason we continue to watch and wait. Now we’ll have to wait until the U.S. Open to see if Serena Williams can capture 24.