LONDON, July 13, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Serena Williams’ quest for an eighth Wimbledon Championships ladies’ singles crown and a 24th Grand Slam singles title will have to wait. On Saturday in the 126th Wimbledon ladies’ final, with an appreciative Centre Court crowd watching the 37-year-old American against her opponent, five-time Grand Slam finalist and seventh seed Simona Halep from Romania, the No. 11 seed was unable to put up much of a fight or make history. Instead, it was Halep who made history.
In a landmark battle between two special persons, both former World No. 1 players, Halep played pressure free tennis and gave a stunning performance that was as resourceful as it was throughly convincing – and on the sport’s biggest stage. With unbelievable confidence and poise – and in just 56 minutes – Halep won her first Wimbledon title with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Williams. She became the first Romanian to win Wimbledon, and it was her second Grand Slam title to go with her 2018 French Open triumph.
“She really played out of her mind, so congratulations, Simona,” said Williams, during an on-court interview with Sue Barker of the BBC, after receiving her runner-up trophy.
Williams was attempting to become the oldest – female or male – to win a Grand Slam when she walked out on Centre Court to face the 27-year-old Halep, whom she had beaten in nine of 10 previous meetings. Playing in her 32nd career Grand Slam final, Williams hadn’t added to her total of 23 major titles since winning the Australian Open in 2017, before the birth of her daughter. Since returning from maternity leave last year, she’s appeared six Grand Slams – and has come up empty each time. Williams lost two Grand Slam finals last year, at Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber and at the U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. This was her first Grand Slam final this year. Her next chance at tying Court will be at next month’s U.S. Open.
Williams has struggled throughout much of 2019, both in her footing and in dealing with knee injuries. In her previous 2019 Grand Slam efforts, she went out in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Karolina Pliskova, and last month lost to Sofia Kenin in the third round of the French Open. Williams came in without playing a grass-court warm-up – and without playing her best until this fortnight. Up until the final, Williams had shown progressively better results, including her domination of Barbora Strycova in Thursday’s semifinal. It all changed against Halep.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 13. Juli 2019
Halep started quickly and won eight of the first 10 points in the match. After breaking Williams, who sent a forehand wide to end the opening game, Halep held with a backhand winner that hugged the baseline. Then, Halep gained another break point in Williams’ next service game. She converted it with a backhand winner to the corner – her fourth of the match – and took a surprising 3-0 lead. The Romanian increased the lead to 4-0 just 12 minutes into the match with another service hold as she fired her first ace.
Williams finally got on the board with a love game, but Halep counterpunched and fought off a break point, then hit a phenomenal forehand winner to push ahead 5-1. A game later, Halep gained two set points at 40-15. Williams hit a forehand winner to save the first, but hit a wide return on the second and Halep won the 26-minute opening set. She won 79 percent of her first serve points and committed just two unforced errors to 10 for Williams.
As the second set developed and the intensity of the ball striking by both players – particularly Williams – increased, one stat to keep in mind: Halep was 74-8 when winning the first set at Grand Slams. On serve through four games, Halep showed remarkable corner-to-corner defense and on break point at 15-40, placed a perfect backhand drop shot that Williams returned long and the Romanian had a break to go ahead 3-2. She consolidated it at 4-2 to move to within two games of her first Wimbledon title. However, Williams wasn’t finished. She hit her first two service aces of the match, but soon found herself facing another break point. She saved it with her third ace, but Halep broke again with a backhand winner, her 12th of the match. It stunned Serena, and put the championship on Halep’s racquet with the Venus Rosewater Dish in her sights.
In the final game, Halep captured it all in four quick points – the game, the set and the championship – as Williams netted a forehand return on match point. Less than an hour after she began her quest, Halep, the new champion, dropped to her knees, stunned, and with a look of disbelief that quickly turned to a feeling of pure joy and happiness.
In what turned out to be a picture-perfect outing for Halep, she hit 13 winners, struck just three unforced errors and converted four of her five break-point opportunities. She faced just one break point and saved it. Meanwhile, Williams committed an uncharacteristic 26 unforced errors and was outpointed 55-38 by Halep.
“Have you ever played a better match than that?”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2019
After receiving the Venus Rosewater Dish during the trophy ceremony, Halep was asked by Barker if she had ever played better. “Never, this was my best match,” said Halep. “I have worked hard for this moment. I feel great. I knew there was no time for emotion. I came on court and I gave my best.”
How does it feel to hold the famous Wimbledon trophy?
“Unbelievable,” said Halep. “It’s something very special. I will never forget this day because it was my mom’s dream. When I was about 10, she said if I want to do something special in tennis, I have to play the finals of Wimbledon. So, the day came. Thanks, so much, mom,” she said smiling, looking up at her parents in her box.
During her post-match analysis, Hall of Famer Chris Evert, commenting on ESPN, said “Simona won it, Serena didn’t lose it. … This is a title that everyone covets and wants to win. It’s great to see Simona win it.”
After walking off court with the Venus Rosewater Dish secured tightly under her arm, Halep was asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi during a separate interview why she won. She said, “I didn’t put pressure on myself.” Then, she gave due props to Darren Cahill, her former coach, who sat just behind Halep’s box. “His support helped me win today. I’m a better person because of him.”
Now, Halep has the most coveted trophy in tennis and a membership for life in the All England Club. All in all, it was a pretty good day’s effort.
Around the All England Club
• The Royal Box has the best seats in the house at the Centre Court, and its 74 seats are reserved for the royal family and members of the All England Club. Lately, it’s been packed to the brim for the final days of the 2019 Wimbledon fortnight mixing show biz celebrities like Hugh Grant with political figureheads such as British Prime Minister Theresa May and others from the world of sport like former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. After attending separately earlier in the tournament, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, sat together in the Royal Box for Saturday’s final. Also spotted was Hall of Fame great Martina Navratilova, who won nine Wimbledon singles titles during her career.
• Daria Snigur from Ukraine won the Wimbledon girls’ singles title by defeating American No. 10 seed Alexa Noel on No. 1 Court Saturday afternoon. The 17-year-old Snigur hit 19 winners and outpointed Noel 67-53. She extended her winning streak on grass to 12 matches after winning the ITF trophy last week in Roehampton.
By the numbers
According to WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen, Serena Williams has made at least one Grand Slam final in 13 consecutive years (2007-19).
The record for most consecutive years reaching a Grand Slam final is 14, held by Chrissie Evert (1963-86). The Hall of Famer is now an analyst for ESPN, who called the Williams-Simona Halep final for a mostly North American TV audience.
What they’re writing
Hall of Fame great Martina Navratilova, on “Serena knows Simona is not going to beat herself,” penned for the WTA website: “Playing for history can be hard for an athlete. It can weigh heavily on you, with the pressure growing and growing. But it is history – and the quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title – that has kept Serena Williams hungry for tennis.
“That hunger, that desire, has brought her to Saturday’s Wimbledon final against Romania’s Simona Halep, which is the American’s match to win or lose. Ever since Serena returned to tennis last year, after taking a break to becoming a mother, the carrot has been the thought of equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record.”