Serena Williams has earned her third shot in 2016 of equaling Steffi Graf’s Open-Era record of 22 Grand Slam titles. But for a second time she will have to get through another German, one who idolized Graf growing up, Angelique Kerber. And after thwarting Williams in the final of the Australian Open to claim her maiden Grand Slam win, the 28-year-old from Bremen is now aiming to become the first German to win the title at the All England Club since Graf grabbed the last of her seven Wimbledon titles in 1996.
“It’s 20 years ago and it’s a long time and I will try to be the next German to win Wimbledon,” Kerber said in her press conference ahead of the final. “But still it’s a long, long way. It’s another tough match before me. But I’m trying not to think about this pressure, because I know when I put too much pressure on myself I will not play my best tennis.”
Kerber has already dashed one Williams dream at Wimbledon, preventing another final between tennis’ two most famous siblings by beating Venus in straight sets in the semifinals. Initially following up her Grand Slam breakthrough at the start of the year proved a real challenge. Indeed, she lost in the opening round of three successive tournaments, in Madrid, Rome and at the French Open. But the fourth seed has yet to lose a set at Wimbledon and is already guaranteed to finish the tournament ranked at No.2 in the world, closing fast on the long-time No. 1, Serena. Still, Kerber is anticipating a huge challenge in Saturday’s final.
“I expect a really tough match,” she said. “I know that she will go out and try to beat me, especially because she lost the match against me in Australia.”
For Williams, the defeat in Melbourne continued a wait for the magic 22nd major title that had begun with a stunning and agonizing upset loss to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Open. After suffering just her second defeat to Kerber in six matches in three sets in Australia, further disappointment arrived for Williams in Paris last month. This time it was Garbiñe Muguruza who secured an upset win in the final of the French Open.
Despite those setbacks, she has looked back to her best at Wimbledon. Williams has dropped just one set on route through to her eighth Wimbledon final as the 34-year-old chases a seventh crown, which would equal Graf’s haul and put her two behind the record of Martina Navratilova.
“I just feel more relaxed and more at peace than I may have been in the past,” Williams said after beating Elena Vesnina in just 48 minutes in the semifinals. “Sometimes when you are fighting, sometimes you want something so bad, it can hinder you a little bit. Now I'm just a little bit more calm.”
That calmness could yet bring double title delight at Wimbledon, with Serena also in the final of the women’s doubles with sister Venus.
Prediction: Kerber is a superbly consistent ball-striker from the back of the court and has been in fine form the last two weeks. Having come through to beat Williams in her first Grand Slam final in Australia, she should also feel fewer nerves second time around. Williams, though, appears to have got over the anxiety-provoking desperation to equal Graf’s Grand Slam title record. And if she is at her best, or close to it, she is still the best player in the world. Williams should prevail in three sets.
Match Time: 9 a.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN