CreditBen Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WIMBLEDON, England — For the third time since her return to tennis, Serena Williams was one victory away from equaling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
For the third time, Williams faltered, losing the Wimbledon final Saturday to Simona Halep, 6-2, 6-2.
“She really played out of her mind, so congratulations, Simona,” Williams said in an on-court interview, referring to Halep’s dominance in a match that was over in 56 minutes and in which Halep made only three unforced errors.
Asked if she had ever played a better match, Halep said, “Never.”
It was the 11th Wimbledon final for Williams. It was the first for Halep, but Halep made the new opportunity count, becoming the first Romanian player to win a singles title at the All England Club.
She was once resistant to the charms of grass court tennis, preferring the sport’s slower, higher-bouncing surfaces.
But in this year’s tournament, with the victories piling up, she declared that her attitude had changed.
“I love grass,” she said after reaching the semifinals. “It’s the first time when I say that.”
She continued: “It’s a little bit dangerous when you play on grass because the feet are not really as stable as you are on hardcourt or a clay court. That’s why I prefer those surfaces. But now I started to feel it, to have it in my hands, to have it in my legs and also in my mind, which is very important.”
Halep, 27, won her first major singles title at the French Open last year after losing her first three Grand Slam finals.
She was disappointed when she failed to successfully defend her French Open title last month, losing in the quarterfinals with the draw opening up. But it also took away some pressure.
“Something clicked after losing at the French Open,” said Virginia Ruzici, Halep’s longtime manager, who won the 1978 French Open. “It was like something woke up inside her, the ambition.”
She received a pre-Wimbledon pep talk from her adviser Ion Tiriac, a former player who has become one of the wealthiest men in Romania and who long managed tennis stars like Ilie Nastase, Guillermo Vilas and Boris Becker.
“He cannot help himself from telling her things about tactics and technique and anything he can get into her head,” Ruzici said.
Halep also consulted with her former coach Darren Cahill, who helped her rise to No. 1 and to win a French Open title before taking a break from coaching this season.
“I think Simona really had it clearly in her mind that she wanted to do good things here,” Ruzici said.
Now she has done the best thing possible: winning the title and defeating Williams, the greatest player of this era, for only the second time in 11 matches.
After the birth of her daughter, Olympia in 2017, Williams returned to competition in February 2018.
But she is now 0-3 in major finals since her comeback and has yet to win any tournament.
At age 37, she was the oldest Grand Slam women’s singles finalist of the Open era.
“I don’t know what is harder, playing after having a child or playing deep into your 30s,” Martina Navratilova, who won nine singles titles at Wimbledon, said.
Williams has often made success look easy through the years with her incomparable serve, aggressive returns, easy baseline power and explosive ability to cover the court.
But the quest for No. 24 has been arduous. Members of her team questioned whether she should make a comeback after Olympia’s birth. Williams had passed Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 major singles titles, winning each of the Grand Slam titles at least three times.
“It would have been a perfect moment to walk away, but I wanted more,” she said in an interview last year.
In her first season back, she lost in the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber and in the U.S. Open final to Naomi Osaka. The loss to Osaka was particularly traumatic. She was penalized a game by the chair umpire Carlos Ramos for a series of code-of-conduct violations, which turned the crowd against Ramos and, to a lesser degree, against Osaka, who ended up in tears during the award ceremony after winning her first Grand Slam title.
Williams said that she sought counseling to cope with the emotional fallout and eventually wrote a letter of apology to Osaka. She did not compete again until January this year, squandering four match points and a 5-1 third-set lead after twisting her left ankle in a quarterfinal loss to Karolina Pliskova at the Australian Open.
She competed little after that setback because of recurring knee tendinitis, playing just six completed matches before arriving in Wimbledon.
But she said she arrived pain free after treatment in France, and as so often in her phenomenal career, she gathered momentum in a hurry. After a shaky performance in the second round against Kaja Juvan, a Slovene qualifier, Williams was sharp in straight-set victories over Julia Görges and Carla Suárez Navarro and then fought her way past the unseeded American Alison Riske, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.
She then played one of the most impressive matches of her comeback in the semifinals, striking 19 aces and overwhelming the Czech veteran Barbora Strycova, 6-1, 6-2.
But Williams could not continue her streak against Halep. Her next chance to tie Court: the U.S. Open, which begins next month.
Here’s how it happened, by Ben Rothenberg:
SECOND Set | HALEP WINS, 6-2
Halep captures her first Wimbledon title.
Halep handed Williams her most lopsided Grand Slam final defeat, winning, 6-2, 6-2, in just 56 minutes to win her second Grand Slam title.
Halep held to love to finish the match, and when Williams’s final shot fell into the net, Halep fell to her knees in joy.
She is the first Romanian woman to win Wimbledon.
As she accepted the runner-up plate for a second year in a row, Williams said that Halep played “out of her mind” in the dominant victory.
The BBC’s Sue Barker asked Halep, “Have you ever played a better match?”
“Never,” Halep replied.
Halep said she had jitters before the match, but was quickly able to quell them.
“There is no time for emotions,” she said. “I came on court and gave my best.”
SECOND Set | HALEP 5, WILLIAMS 2
Halep is in complete command.
Halep leads, 6-2, 5-2 after 53 minutes, holding a double break advantage and just one game from the win.
Williams finally hit her first ace of the match down, 0-30, in the seventh game, and another service winner later. But it was not enough. Whether it was nerves or underestimating Halep’s world-class defense, Williams has kept Halep in too many rallies, often opting more for placement than power, to her detriment.
SECOND Set | HALEP 3, WILLIAMS 2
Halep is tightening her grip on this final.
Halep now leads Williams 6-2, 3-2 — up a set and a break.
Frequently in this match, Williams has looked indecisive and uncharacteristically full of doubt when in a leading position in a point, including guiding an overhead smash softly back within Halep’s reach as the fifth game of the second set slipped away from her.
On break point, Williams chased down a short ball from Halep and had a fairly simple backhand to finish off the point, but guided it long.
Halep is now three games from the title.
SECOND Set | WILLIAMS 1, HALEP 1
Williams makes herself heard.
On the first point of the second set, Williams indecisively hit a short forehand within reach of Halep and lost the point. After winning the next point, Williams let out a loud roar of frustration. Her next serve was 123 m.p.h. and accompanied by a loud grunt; it went into the net, but the gasping Centre Court crowd heard her loud and clear: Williams has arrived for this second set, which she opened with a hold.
Halep then held for 1-1, with considerably fewer fireworks.
First Set | Halep WINS, 6-2
Halep claims the first set in a hurry.
Halep took the first set, 6-2, in just 26 minutes, putting herself one set from a second Grand Slam title.
Williams found her range on her serve late in the set, but could do little to derail Halep’s momentum on hers, leading to four holds to close the set.
Williams finished the first set without an ace, but is making 80 percent of her first serves.
First Set | Halep 5, Williams 2
Williams will have to raise her game.
Williams seems to have found some traction in this match, holding her serve at love twice, but she will need to find significantly more to upset Halep, who has had a sparkling start to this match. On her way to a 5-2 lead after 22 minutes, Halep hit eight winners against just one unforced error. Williams has hit seven winners and nine unforced errors.
First Set | Halep 4, Williams 1
Williams gets on the board at last.
After rapidly falling behind 0-4 in just 11 minutes, Williams held at love in the fifth game.
There may be time for twists yet: all four of Halep’s previous Grand Slam finals went the full three sets.
First Set | Halep 3, Williams 0
Halep is off to a flying start.
Halep has broken Williams twice to build up a 3-0 lead after just seven minutes.
Halep also dominated her two previous matches on Centre Court during this year’s tournament, beating Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-1, in the third round and beating Elina Svitolina, 6-1, 6-3, in the semifinals.
First Set | Halep 2, Williams 0
Halep breaks Williams to begin the match.
Williams served to open the final and quickly dropped the first game, broken after two minutes when she sprayed a forehand wide. That is likely a sign of nerves as she begins a third attempt at a 24th Grand Slam title. Halep held serve in the next game to build a 2-0 lead.
The royal box includes Williams’s close friend the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle; the Duchess of Cambridge; Prime Minister Teresa May; the actors Woody Harrelson, Lily James and Mark Rylance; and past Wimbledon champions Marion Bartoli, Ann Jones, Conchita Martinez, Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade.
July 12, 2019
July 12, 2019