WIMBLEDON, England — It’s hard to deny that what Serena Williams keeps achieving on a tennis court is nothing less than sublime.
She’s now in position to win a 24th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon on Saturday, which would tie Margaret Court’s all-time record, less than a year after giving birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia. The fact she suffered from life-threatening blood clots post-delivery of Olympia, and has only played four tournaments since her return to the tour in March, makes her Wimbledon final appearance even more impressive.
Williams, who didn’t play an opponent ranked in the top 50 until 13th-seeded Julia Goerges in the semifinals, will play Angelique Kerber for an eighth Wimbledon title on Saturday. The matchup is intriguing considering the last time Williams played here in 2016 she won the title over Kerber. But it’s worth remembering that Kerber won the first of her two Grand Slam titles by beating Williams in the 2016 Australian Open final, and is not likely to be intimidated by facing a true all-time great.
As the possibility of Williams rewriting another page in tennis history looms, it seemed the perfect time to have another all-time great weigh in on Williams.
Chris Evert, America’s tennis darling, an 18-time Grand Slam champion with three Wimbledon titles to her credit, who nowadays is a well-known commentator for ESPN, spoke about Williams with USA TODAY Sports.
Q: Did you expect Serena was up to the task of reaching the Wimbledon final in only her second Grand Slam appearance since giving birth?
I’m not surprised, surprised. I really didn’t know. I don’t know if she knew if she had the confidence. I still don’t know at this stage if she had the confidence that she was going to make the finals. But I certainly had no idea because she hadn’t proven anything yet. She was still rusty. She hadn’t played enough for me to have conviction in my pick.
Q: What impresses you the most about what Serena’s managed to do here at Wimbledon this fortnight?
In this day and age, when everybody says the depth is so thick you can’t play your way into a tournament, she played her way into the tournament. I think the draw helped her. But she definitely got better with each match and more comfortable on the grass. But, really, for her to come back on any surface, for her to do well on any surface, it would be grass, wouldn’t it?
Q: How impressive is what Serena’s doing as a new mom?
I think that there are a lot of working mothers out there. There are a lot of struggling mothers, financially, who work hard, have three jobs and the children go to day care. The one thing that is different is tennis is a very physical sport and you need to be on top of your game physically, emotionally, mentally. And because it’s a physical game I think that’s what impresses me more. You have to take the time to get yourself into the fighting shape again, and to do that with the complications she had giving birth, supposedly near death.
Q: Do you feel like Serena is as confident as ever on the court?
I don’t think it’s a confidence. I think she’s more relaxed. With this new dimension in her life, being married, having a family, having a child, it’s taking the focus off her. To be a champion it’s all about me, me, me. It’s all about you. She’s so tough on herself, she’s such a perfectionist, I think this new dimension has taken the pressure off her. She seems to be calmer and more secure in this stage of her life.
Q: Serena’s accomplished so much in her career. What do you think is keeping her playing at 36-years of age?
She’s a goal-oriented person. Serena has to have something to reach for. She reaches for the stars. And right now she has a new goal, and that is to win as a mother.
She’s very special that way. She’s been able to maintain that hunger. She’s as hungry now it seems as when she was 17-year-old. She likes breaking records, and likes being the best at everything. She’s just a high achiever and she’s wired that way.
Q: Analyze where Serena is in terms of her game and approach to matches after six matches here at Wimbledon?
I think that the passion and the hunger is still there, the focus has been unbelievable, the calmness is there. So all the emotional and mental components are there. Her game is there. She’s now serving huge, returning huge. There’s no real weaknesses in her game. I just think, maybe, she could be a tad quicker, but she needs something to work on. I think she would be the first to admit I want to get into even better shape than I am now.
I think that I’ve seen her in better shape in her career, let’s put it that way. It’s really unreasonable to suggest after this short period of time that she’s going to be in her best conditioning shape. But it’s good enough, it might be good enough to win Wimbledon.
Q: Do you feel like she can continue at the top of the game?
That remains to be seen. I think the other women are still really tough and they’ve improved over the last year, and I think it’s going to be tougher than ever. I think that the gap is closing in when you get to a hard or clay court, and there’s a lot more depth from when she left. And I think she will manage her schedule to win Grand Slams. I would doubt if she will play a full schedule and it’s hard to say you’re dominating if you don’t play a full schedule.