Wimbledon 2015 saw Serena Williams take her 21st major title, bringing her just one title from Steffi Graf’s Open Era record. With this title Williams has completed her second ‘Serena Slam’, which refers to the phenomenon of holding all four Grand Slam titles at once, but not within a calendar year. Williams first achieved the ‘Serena Slam’ in 2002-2003, and her repetition of the remarkable feat 12 years later showcases her incredible longevity within the sport. Williams will now aim to complete her first calendar Grand Slam at the US Open, a feat achieved by only 6 other players in the history of tennis. Her second ‘Serena Slam’ makes her only the third player to hold all four major titles on multiple occasions, and this is how she did it:
First Round: def. Margarita Gasparyan; 6-4, 6-1.
The tournament began poorly for Williams, who had not played any warm up tournaments on grass. Williams lost her first service game of the tournament to qualifier Margarita Gasparyan, appearing uncharacteristically nervous while Gasparyan played well. Gasparyan had a chance to gain a double break over Williams in the first set, which would have put her up 4-1, serving for 5-1. Williams seemed to be actively pumping herself up on court with exaggerated yelling, receiving a warning for swearing in the sixth game of the match, and those tactics seemed effective. After holding to avert the double break Williams broke Gasparyan in her next service game, and the match swiftly returned to its expected path. Williams won 9 of the remaining 12 games to take the match, but even that was not as simple as the numbers might suggest, with Gasparyan holding multiple further break point opportunities.
Second Round: def. Timea Babos; 6-4, 6-1.
While the scoreline of Williams’ second round match mimicked that of the first round, the two matches differed dramatically. Babos – the eventual mixed doubles runner up – never broke the Williams serve, which was to be on its usual impeccable form with Williams winning 86% of points when it landed in. Within that were a remarkable 12 aces, leaving Babos with little opportunity to make an impact on the Williams service game. Williams appeared in control of the match from beginning to end, beating Babos in just under an hour, almost half an hour less than she had needed for her first round victory over Gasparyan.
Third Round: def. Heather Watson; 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
It’s never easy to play against a Brit at Wimbledon, but neither Serena nor Heather – nor likely any fan watching on – quite expected the match that was to follow. It took Williams just 25 minutes to win the first set, a clean, quick victory which boded poorly for Watson’s chances in the remainder of the match.
The second set began with the Centre Court crowd loudly applauding any point Watson managed to win, which Watson responded to well. Spurred on by the enthusiastic crowd support Watson broke at 2 games all in the second set, only to find herself immediately broken back as Williams raised her own game in response. The match remained level through a series of tight service holds until a series of Williams errors gave Watson the break and chance to serve for the set. Nerves were evident in both players in the final game of the second set, but Watson ultimately found the form to force a final set.
The final set of the match lasted for over an hour, with both players maintaining a remarkably high level despite several nervous moments and a disruptive Centre Court crowd. Watson began the set with two breaks of serve, with Williams showing the majority of the nerves through multiple double faults. Williams steadied herself quickly, however, getting the match back on serve immediately with two breaks of her own. The tension of match at this point is impossible to describe, Watson and Williams creating countless high quality rallies, ending either on stunning winners or errors born of tightly strung nerves. Watson broke to love to serve for the match, and from my spot on ‘Henman Hill’, watching on the big screen within the Wimbledon grounds, it felt as if the whole of London was watching, holding their breath or screaming desperate encouragements. Spectators courtside seemed to opt for the latter, ignoring reprimands from the umpire to repetitively interrupt points and hinder both players, to Williams’ visible irritation. Despite the hindrance Williams saved the match by breaking the Watson serve, British disappointment captured through groans and shouts of dismay on Centre Court, the exchange of countless cursing tweets and texts nationwide. Williams won her own service game swiftly, placing the pressure back on Watson as she now had to serve to stay in the match. It took three match points, but Williams won on a line-clipping return of serve, safely through what turned out to be the closest match of her entire tournament.
Fourth Round: def. Venus Williams; 6-4, 6-3.
With so many stunning matches in their history the potential meeting of the Williams’ sisters had been a major talking point among tennis fans since the of the Wimbledon draws. Coming into the match Serena had stated that Venus was in better grass court form than her, and certainly Venus did seem to have progressed more easily over opponents of roughly equal difficulty, winning her first match 6-0, 6-0 and clocking up roughly an hour less on court than her sister. Serena need not have worried. The meeting of the two eldest women remaining in the women’s draw began with the Serena, the younger, winning eight straight points to break Venus instantly and consolidate with a love hold. Venus did seem to find her feet slightly after those two games, breaking Serena’s next service game, but failed to hold serve, surrendering the advantage once again. The match remained close and competitive, but the result was almost never in doubt. Serena broke serve midway through the second set on a double fault from Venus, winning four straight games to seal the victory.
Quarter Final: def. Victoria Azarenka; 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Victoria Azarenka, seeded 23rd in the tournament, is still finding her way back up the rankings after a foot injury kept her out of competition for five months. She would likely be higher up if she stopped drawing Williams quite so early at events like this. One of the few players who can consistently push Williams, Azarenka has faced many tough draws on her route to recovery and her class is shown in how often she battles through them, at least up until the world number one blocks her path. This match was no exception, though there were moments it seemed it may be.
Azarenka broke early in the first set, consolidating the break with a highly competitive service game that set the benchmark for an incredibly high standard of play. Winners and aces abound, with each point in each game a hotly contested affair. Spectators gasped at both players’ power and placement well into the second set, break point opportunities coming and going, saved by outstanding point after outstanding point. The electric atmosphere within Centre Court has the feel of a final, without the overwhelming bias of the Watson match. When Williams broke midway through the second set on a well-constructed point the crowd cheered, happy just for the chance to see more of such stunning tennis.
Momentum seemed to swing Williams’ way from that moment on. There were still remarkable points, but they ended with Williams the victor more frequently. Williams took the break early in the third set, firing Azarenka up again, but she failed to convert the few break points she did create. There is a sense of inevitability about going down a break to Williams, the best server on the tour by a large margin, and Williams’ momentum could not be stopped. It seemed for a moment as though it may be, as she goes down 0-30 when serving to win the match, but two aces salvage the situation and the match ends, having delivered on all the promise it contained.
Semi Final: def. Maria Sharapova; 6-2 6-4.
While a match against the world number two Maria Sharapova, who defeated Williams in the Wimbledon final at the age of just 17, may seem like a tough draw at first glance, Williams’ 17 match winning streak over Sharapova left little doubt over how the match would progress. Such a streak, stretched out over 10 years, inevitably creates a mental block within a player’s mind. Indeed, with Williams breaking in the first game of the match the result never seemed in doubt. Sharapova did not see a single break point opportunity throughout the match, as it quickly became clear that Williams had been playing herself into her highest form through her competitive early rounds. The contrast of serve is perhaps especially important here, Williams serving 13 aces and 2 double faults, and Sharapova just 2 aces and 6 double faults, three of which came in the first game alone and two of which handed Williams a break of serve. Williams could have won the match breaking only in the games handed to her by the Sharapova double fault, and indeed that was the only break of serve she achieved in the final set. The fact that such a result, losing the set by only a single break, was regarded as improvement for Sharapova, says a great deal. Sharapova is not only on a 17 match losing streak to Williams, she is now on a 15 set losing streak. Williams’ outstanding talent is highlighted by the fact that even the world number 2 cannot get close to pushing her.
Final: def. Garbine Muguruza; 6-4, 6-4
Garbine Muguruza, seeded 20th in the Championships and preferring clay courts over grass, seemed like a relatively easy final opponent in all the ways Sharapova should have been tough. Muguruza knocked Williams out in only the second round of Roland Garros in 2014, however, and had admitted to growing steadily more fond of grass as she progressed through the tournament, knocking out the 10th and 5th seeds on her way. A competitive match was expected, and a competitive match was delivered.
Muguruza broke in the opening game of the match as Williams served an uncharacteristic 3 double faults, equal to her average over the course of entire matches earlier in the tournament. Williams’ nerves were apparent while Muguruza played freely and fearlessly, and while Williams quickly recovered Muguruza did not falter. Muguruza seemed unintimidated by either the occasion or her opponent, hitting powerful shots matched well by Williams. Muguruza saved the first two break point she faced, still going for her shots even with her advantage on the line, and the Centre Court crowd was buzzing. This, a young up and comer playing fearlessly against one of the game’s greats, was the final they had so desperately hoped for last year. It may have been less expected this year, Williams a reliably tougher competitor than Kvitova, but that only made it more celebrated.
It did not take long for Williams to prove exactly why she is world number one, however, holding easily and breaking Muguruza at her fourth opportunity. Muguruza continued to play well, refusing to collapse after losing her advantage, but there are very few who can match Williams at her highest level. Williams broke again to take the first set and held easily to open the second, finding herself on a five game winning streak through no fault of her opponent’s. The next service game for Muguruza seemed vital, she needed to put a stop to Williams’ momentum if she were to stand any chance of remaining in this match.
Thankfully, she delivered, strong serving taking Muguruza to a love hold and two double faults from Williams delivering Muguruza a 15-30 advantage within the next game, too. After such a vital hold, however, Muguruza’s form seemed to drop slightly. She was no longer playing with boundless freedom, and Williams seemed to have developed an understanding of the first serve that had been assisting her so well. Williams broke in Muguruza’s next two service games, as much a product of her own high level as a small drop from Muguruza, and would serve for the match at 5-1. The result seemed inevitable.
Yet suddenly, Muguruza had found her form again. The end of the match in sight, perhaps the loss of expectation had extinguished any nerves as Muguruza found her form of the opening games, hitting freely once again as Williams found her serve going awry. Muguruza broke to love to save the match, then held through a tight deuce game to keep herself in it for one game more. Williams was to serve for the match yet again, but her success seemed far less assured.
There’s almost a sense of deja vu as Williams found herself down 0-40 on her second attempt to serve out the match, Muguruza having three break points that it’s hard to imagine her not capitalising on in this form. Williams served a series of stunning aces to get back to deuce, then to give herself match point, but Muguruza’s form was still too strong. Muguruza capitalised on her fifth break point in the game with a deep groundstroke, and the match was back on serve. Muguruza was to serve to keep her place in the final, to keep alive her chances of an outstanding comeback.
It was not to be, however. Without her suddenly less reliable serve Williams was quickly up 0-40, taking the first of three break points to win the match as Muguruza hit her shot wide. There was a moment of confusion as the umpire seemed to be waiting for Muguruza to challenge the call despite the clarity of the error, but eventually ‘game, set, match’ was called, and Williams could celebrate her remarkable achievement. She seemed almost in shock at first, but was soon up and dancing around the court as the reality of her 21st major title, her second Serena Slam, sunk in. Come the US Open Williams will be fighting for her first calendar Grand Slam, her 22nd major title to equal the Open Era record, and I don’t know many who’d bet against her.
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