It’s been 13 years since Serena Williams failed to make at least one Grand Slam final in a single season. That is a remarkable run for a number one reasons, one of which being the break she took from the sport to have a child in 2017. She still managed to win the Australian Open that year, making two Slam finals last year.
Williams continued this streak by beating Barbora Strycova on Thursday, setting up a meeting with Simona Halep in Saturday’s Wimbledon final. Even by the 37-year-old’s high standards, this is a particularly significant match in her career. With one more final win, Williams will equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 career Grand Slam titles.
Of course, many argue, with good reason, that Williams is already the greatest of all time. She can, over the next few months, make that official, though. Winning Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back - a distinct possibility given the way the American is playing at the moment - would put Williams in the clear out in front.
And yet even as arguably the best women’s tennis player of all time, Williams doesn’t get the credit she deserves. Has there ever been someone who has managed to keep their level so high so late into their career? Williams’ 40th birthday is on the not so distant horizon, but when she is fully fit and firing the gap between her and the rest of the chasing pack is as wide as ever.
Fitness was the only question mark against Williams heading into this year’s grass court season. That was the issue at Roland Garros where she only made the third round. After a couple of shaky early round matches, though, the American has improved with every performance at SW19. Her display against Strycova, who won just three games in two sets, was particularly emphatic.
Playing mixed doubles alongside Andy Murray helped to lift her game. It raised Williams’ intensity on the court and sharpened her hands at the net. If she is to win an eighth Wimbledon women’s singles title on Saturday the former British number one will have played a part, albeit a very small part.
“I know when I do, when I play doubles here with Venus, it definitely helps my singles game,” Williams explained after her semi final demolition of Strycova. “I was really keen to play mixed here. I feel like it helped me, not just for today and this event but hopefully it will help me in the future.”
There is not a weakness in the Williams game. Her serve is the best on the tour and her return is similarly the best among her peers. In the rally, there are few, if any, who can hit through the American. On the men’s side there are dominant forces - see Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - but nobody as untouchable as Williams is on the women’s side.
She is an icon, perhaps the most iconic athlete for decades. Williams’ story is one so compelling countless commercials have been based on it. Her rise from life in Compton to the greatest female tennis in history has been well-documented, but it’s worth, from time to time, reminding ourselves of the folklore. Victory on Saturday would put the rubber stamp on a story already told plenty times, but still not often enough.