Published On: Thu, Jul 12th, 2018

Rosie DiManno: Serena Williams stands alone on ageless superstar pedestal at Wimbledon

The missus and the maiden.

Mrs. Williams, as the Wimbledon chair umpire insisted on calling Serena Williams, who is actually Mrs. Ohanian, if she wants to use the married honorific whilst in pursuit of a record 24th Grand Slam title.

Julia Goerges the maiden, as in making her inaugural appearance at a Grand Slam semifinal.

Which was over in a slam-bang-thank-you-ma’am one hour and 10 minutes on Thursday.

Serena the Unstoppable, just 10 months removed from childbirth, in only her fourth tournament since returning to the tennis tour.

Of course if anybody could pull that off so lickety-split it would be Williams, an extraordinary athlete with an indomitable will, the won’t-lose quality which separates her from every other female player on the planet right now, in a sport that had missed her desperately with nobody on the distaff horizon apparently capable of assuming pre-eminence.

She’ll be 37 come September, is nearly completely preoccupied and smitten with motherhood — her frequent social media postings a sweet testament to infant daughter Alexis Olympia’s every development phase, sometimes reaching out into the ether for advice on how to cope with a baby who won’t go to sleep or is constantly wriggling away to explore the world, or wailing a mum’s dismay at recently missing the baby’s first footsteps — but remains enthralled with her first love: tennis.

“I think it’s healthy, in a way, for me to do what I need to do,” Williams said last week, “be that working mom, then go back home and be a mom.’’

A working mom who is the world’s top prize-money earner among women, to be sure. But that kind of fortune has nothing to do with it.

And with the other GOAT, Roger Federer, falling at the quarterfinal post on the lawns of the All England Club, Williams stands alone on the ageless superstar pedestal.

Time will catch up to Williams, as it does with all athletes. Not quite yet, though, even if she loses to another German, Angelique Kerber, in Saturday’s round-of-two, a reprise of the 2016 Wimbledon final that ended with Williams hoisting the trophy aloft.

The mother of all comebacks, it’s being called, although Williams is hardly the first prominent athlete to resume her career after giving birth. Evonne Goolagong Cawley did it at Wimbledon way back in 1980. Kim Clijsters seized her second U.S. Open title in just her third tournament after becoming a first-time mom. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, marathoner Paula Radcliffe, swimmer Dana Vollmer and soccer star Christie Rampone (twice) are among other elite athletes who sustained greatness after pregnancy. Heck, Sheryl Swoopes returned to the WNBA six weeks after giving birth.

So let’s put that baby to bed, the canard that women can’t balance demanding sports with motherhood.

Of course, Williams’ resurgence is rather distinctive, given the health issues she endured from a difficult Caesarian delivery and subsequent related surgeries. “This is not inevitable for me to be playing like this,” she said after dismantling Goerges 6-2, 6-4, Alexis Olympia in the stands. “I had a really tough delivery and I had to have multiple surgeries and nearly didn’t make it when I gave birth. I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox, so it’s definitely not normal to be in a Wimbledon final.”

At SW19, she’s been wearing fishnet stockings with her demure white tennis dress — not as a fashion statement, which would have been very much in keeping with the Serena of yore (recall her tiara phase). The fishnets are actually a precaution against dangerous blood clots, which have plagued Williams.

But that sure looked like vintage Serena on Centre Court Thursday, with a full complement of shots and agile coverage against arguably her serving equal, Goerges racking up the most aces among women at the tournament. Williams had five aces in the semi on a serve that reached 119 m.p.h., delivering 16 winners with only seven unforced errors.

“Not only do I expect to win,’’ she’d said, “I expect to win emphatically.”

Admittedly it was a nondescript field, with all 10 top women’s seeds eliminated by the conclusion of midway Manic Monday. But Williams had dropped only one set churning through to the semi, two decades after making her debut at Wimbledon as a precocious teenager. There was some concern that she hadn’t been exposed to the kind of top-notch opposition to sharpen her tennis beaming in on a title. Williams made short shrift of that suggestion. “I faced 1,003 seeds in my life. So I’m okay.”

Seeded 25th though her ranking is 181st following a near-year absence from the women’s tour, at her first major apart from the French Open where she withdrew last month because of an injured chest muscle, Williams scarcely gave No. 13 seed Goerges a chance to breathe. While the German started decently, she then dropped five straight games to surrender the first set and fell behind on breaks early in the second as Williams charged to a 5-2 lead before dropping serve just once trying to close out.

That breezy triumph booked Williams through to her 30th Grand Slam final at a tournament she’s won seven times, extending her winning streak on London grass to 20 matches.

“It’s crazy to even know how I feel because I literally didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,” said Williams afterwards. “I just feel, when I don’t have much to lose, I can play free.”

She is a legend with no intention of fading away. And though her priorities may have shifted somewhat, tennis remains an essence. “I don’t know if it’s been the toughest because I have Olympia. For me, I only see joy out of it. In a way, it’s by far the toughest, but in a way it’s by far the best.”

At the post-match press conference, Williams was even asked whose footwork has improved the most of late, hers or wee Olympia’s. “That’s a really good question. I’m going to say hers because she’s moving those feet now, she’s walking, maybe a little too fast. She’s trying to go faster than her body will allow her to go. She kicks her little feet really hard. I’ve been learning a lot from her.

“I was expecting a few more baby steps myself. I still feel like I’m in that baby-step place. Every time I go out there, I want to take a giant step forward, keep taking giant steps, keep improving.”

In the final, Williams will be facing an opponent six years younger — they’re all younger — who tumbled out of the top 10 last year following a breakout 2016 season. But the left-hander has returned to blistering form, withstanding a barrage of winners in her semi against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, for a 6-3, 6-3 decision.

“She’s playing really well,” said Williams of Kerber. “A lot of people haven’t been. I think grass is her best surface. She knows how to play on this surface. It’s her second final in three years, is that right? That’s wildly impressive.”

On Saturday, Williams will have her good chum Meghan Markle, a.k.a. the Duchess of Sussex, in the royal box. Asked if she considered herself Wimbledon royalty, the queen of tennis was taken aback.

“Oh wow. I never thought about that. If there was a Wimbledon royalty, I would like to believe I would be Wimbledon royalty because I’ve done pretty well here.

“Honestly, I’m just me. I don’t feel any different. I know that sounds weird, but I don’t. That’s an attitude I always want to keep, something I want to teach my daughter, to always just have this humility.

“We’re all human.”

A precious few are also goddesses.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

TORONTO STAR

Leave a comment

Rosie DiManno: Serena Williams stands alone on ageless superstar pedestal at Wimbledon