SERENA Williams has waited until she is a mum of 37 to unveil the new and improved version. No sooner had this 23-time Grand Slam winner played her way into becoming the oldest major finalist of the Open Era yesterday than she was acknowledging the role which playing mixed doubles with our very own Andy Murray had played in her latest resurgence. She might have reached the final here 12 months ago for the first time since the birth of her daughter Olympia in September 2017 but her rebirth has come this fortnight.

“I promise you, when I hit a volley I was like ‘would I have made that if I didn’t play doubles?’” said Williams. “I don’t think so. I kept telling you guys I thought the doubles would help me. And I really think it did. I don’t usually attack the net that much. But I tried to and I want to.”

Pitted against a player in the veteran, unheralded form of Barbora Stycova of the Czech Republic who had visited this venue often as many times as she had (16 to 19) and serve-and-volleyed consistently throughout this tournament, the younger Williams sister used the perfect moment to deploy this new Roger Federer-style weapon in her armoury. She won 13 of her 16 net points in all, including both times when she decided to serve and volley.


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But it wasn’t just the volleying prowess which she seemed to have inherited from her stint in the doubles with the Scot; she seemed to have channelled a bit of the inner zen that he shows, particularly in the interview room. This was a supremely calm and strategic Serena who took all the drama out of this semi-final to book a spot in her 11th SW19 singles final by a 6-1, 6-2 score line.

Her eighth title here – only Martina Navratilova has won a more – and a place alongside Margaret Court at the summit of the all-time lists with 24 major titles awaits if he can hold her nerve in Saturday’s showpiece.

That perhaps is the big question come Saturday morning, considering her two previous Grand Slam finals since giving birth have gone the other way. If losing to an inspired Angelique Kerber here last year was one thing, it was another entirely to meltdown in the manner she did in defeat against Naomi Osaka at the US Open, being docked of first a point and then a game for coaching violations and racket abuse. Perhaps it may also have helped her to exorcise a few of those demons in a self-penned essay on the subject which appeared in Harpers’ Bazaar magazine only this week.

“I was calm today,” said Serena. “But it’s a day-to-day basis with me. We all know that. I’m far from perfect.

“I definitely feel like I play better when I’m calm,” she added. “But it’s definitely an effort. Not getting over-pumped, but at the same time not getting under-wound. I have to be in that right space.

“I don’t remember much about 12 months ago. I just remember I was tired and Angie played unbelievable. I was sad but also proud of myself. I did everything I could. Physically I just wasn’t there. But now I have to look at it in a different place. This whole year I have been trying to stay fit so I can be able to play in Grand Slams.”


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Is this Saturday the day that everything falls into place and Serena takes her place at the summit of the all-time lists? Perhaps, but those fiendish tennis Gods have pitted her against perhaps the only player right now who seems capable of upsetting the applecart.

It may have been a surprisingly straightforward 6-1, 6-3 victory saw Romania’s Simona Halep past the challenge of Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina and through to her first Wimbledon final, but this 27-year-old is also a new and improved version from the one which tumbled to Eugenie Bouchard in her only previous SW19 semi-final.

Armed with her first Grand Slam title, the 2018 French Open, there is a steeliness about this Romanian which was demonstrated when she crushed Coco Gauff’s dream earlier in this tournament. While she has won just one of her ten meetings against Williams to date – way back at Indian Wells in 2015 – this talented returner and baseline battler is one of the few players on the tour who will fancy her chances of returning Serena’s mighty serve. Working with Andy Murray’s former psychologist, Alexis Castorri, helps.

“I have played many matches against her,” said Halep. “Many of them were very close. I have learned that I have the chance to win against her. Of course, I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing. But now I feel stronger mentally facing her.

“I’m desperate to win Wimbledon more than to stop her. I will focus on myself. I’m not thinking about her record. Of course, it is huge. But her records are huge already.”

Deriving inspiration also from her long-term coach Darren Cahill, who is back in her box in an advisory role, Halep has dropped just one set all fortnight. Already the first Romanian woman to reach the final, she won’t be overawed when it comes to the showpiece. But the vibe is subtly different to last year Serena said that she had played ‘for all the mothers out there’. “This year I’m just playing for me,” she said.