WIMBLEDON, England — In her pursuit of one of the most elusive records in tennis, the third time proved the charm for Serena Williams at Wimbledon on Saturday, beating Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3.
With the victory, her seventh singles title at Wimbledon, Williams claimed her 22nd Grand Slam singles title, equaling the Open Era record held by Steffi Graf.
Williams had lost her previous two Grand Slam finals earlier this year, falling to Kerber at the Australian Open and Garbine Muguruza at the French Open.
Williams had also lost in shocking fashion to unseeded Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of last year’s U.S. Open, where she was attempting to equal Graf’s record as well as complete a calendar year Grand Slam.
Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said the loss to Vinci had taken longer for Serena to recuperate from than he initially expected.
“She missed once and because so many things were on the line — like the calendar Slam, the 22nd, the fact that it was in New York, I mean all those things together — this hurt her much too much,” Mouratoglou said. “And then after, the other losses were a consequence of this one.”
Williams downplayed the impact of that loss, saying reaching the finals of the next two majors showed her continued ability to persevere.
“I think if anything, I was able to show resilience,” Williams said. “No, that’s not going to shake me, you’re not going to break me, it’s going to make me stronger.”
Still, she admitted the stress of falling just short so many times had weighed on her.
“I have, yeah, definitely had some sleepless nights, if I’m just honest,” she said. “With a lot of stuff: coming so close, feeling it, not being able to quite get there.”
The slow starts she had in those matches were nowhere to be found on Saturday, as Williams played with newfound purpose and power. She did not face a break point on her serve until late in the second set.
Kerber again proved a ferocious fighter, as she had in Melbourne. With her world class counterpunching, she routinely extended rallies, and defended her often vulnerable serve with tenacity. But Williams’ serve was untouchable. Kerber only managed one break point opportunity in the entire match, and it was quickly erased by a Williams ace, one of the 13 she struck in the match.
“This is how Serena is playing,” Kerber said. “I had one break point, and I couldn’t do nothing.”`
For Mouratoglou, who said he was more relieved to have discovered the “true Serena” than that she finally won a 22nd major, it was a glimpse of his player back at her best.
“This is Serena,” he said. “Today, when she’s in trouble, 15-30: boom, boom. This is Serena. When she needs to lift her level, to close: boom, she does it. This is Serena. I didn’t see that for eight months.”
Williams, dogged by slow starts in her two previous major finals this year, had started the match particularly well, putting Kerber under immediate pressure, though she was not able to break until the final game of the set.
Williams secured a final break in the eighth game of the second set, and then served out the victory with a forehand volley winner, fittingly the same stroke which she had flubbed against Kerber down match point in Australia.
Williams, who had friends Beyonce and Jay-Z watching from her player’s box, then collapsed to the court in joy.
Williams said that the peace and focus which she had harnessed for this tournament came from self-acceptance. Despite high-profile losses, she reminded herself, she was still a champion who had reached the final at six of her last seven Grand Slam events.
“I had to start looking at positives, not focusing on that one loss per tournament — which really isn’t bad, and anyone else on this tour would be completely happy about it,” she said. “Once I started focusing more on the positives, I realized that I’m pretty good. Then I started playing a little better.”