Serena Williams does not keep her Grand Slam runners-up trophies. She can’t bear to look at them, so repelled is she by defeat. Somewhere on the planet four such prizes are gathering rust, two from the All England Club and two from the US Open. So one way or another, the 2012 Wimbledon final was about number five – a fifth title for Serena here, or a fifth runners-up plate to be discarded on the scrapheap. She knew which she wanted, and she made it happen.
“I wanted to win here so badly,” she said, just an hour after she became Wimbledon champion 2012. “Winning is so amazing. Each title is special but this is super-special because it’s a huge comeback for me. Oh my gosh, I still can’t believe I was able to come through and win my seven matches.”
Think on this... Serena Williams began amassing Grand Slam titles in the last century, when Bill Clinton was still in the White House and Prince William was a schoolboy. Now, as an old lady approaching 31, she has 14 Grand Slam titles. She just keeps coming back. Every time it seems her salad days must be over, she roars right back and wins again. How many times has the book been closed on her career, only for her to come up with a new episode demanding another chapter in The Very Extraordinary Adventures of Serena Williams?
Succeeding in elite sport is a strange business, and it cannot be achieved by accident. The degree of desire required is stratospheric. Yet Serena and Venus did not choose tennis. It was chosen for them. They may live in a curious, inward-looking WilliamsWorld bubble which is beyond the imagination of many of us. But no matter what, they just keep on keeping on, and they do it with repeated gratitude for the chances they have been given.
Two years ago Serena had a career-threatening foot injury. Soon after that it was her life that was at stake, when she suffered a pulmonary embolism. Neither could stop her. Here she is again, raising the Venus Rosewater Dish above her head and literally jumping for joy.
“I have definitely had some lows,” she acknowledged. “There was one time when I was lying on my couch, and I didn’t leave it for two whole days. I couldn’t take any more. I had endured enough. I was just so tired. I had a tube, a drain, in my stomach. Right before that I had the blood clot, and lung problems, and two foot surgeries. It was a lot, and I felt I hadn’t done anything to bring that on. It was the lowest of the lows. But I didn’t just stay there. I got up, and I got started. That’s what you have to do sometimes.”
Six weeks ago she arrived at Roland Garros as one of the joint favourites, and instead in the first round unthinkably she lost from a winning position to the world No.111 Virginie Razzano.
“The French was so disappointing because I did so well in the run-up,” she recalled. “I was undefeated on clay and had a lot of confidence. When I lost that, it really got me down.”
But she didn’t stay down. Like before, she got up, and got started again. And then in this 2012 Wimbledon final, she found herself in much the same place – with victory slipping away from her after she was a set and a break up. This in a match she began as the kind of burning favourite you might usually describe as hotter than July, if July weather ever felt like turning up in SW19. And this time she wasn’t facing the world No.111 but the No.3, who would be at least the world No.2 as a result of making the final, and the world No.1 if Serena experienced another Razzano episode.
It could have happened. The fact that it didn’t owes nothing to inevitability, or destiny, or storybooks and flowers and sunshine and loveliness. Serena Williams made victory happen. And that is extraordinary. At the right time in the third set, she held serve not just to love but with four straight aces, shunting her juggernaut of a game towards triumph.
“I do that [serve four successive aces] all the time now,” she smiled amid laughter. “I did it in Madrid. I think I did it earlier in this tournament. That’s my latest and greatest thing to do, hit four aces in a game. It’s awesome.”
It is. And so is she. And yet, to listen to some hereabouts you would think the outcome to this final was inevitable. Apparently all she had to do was turn up for the final and the Championship would belong to her. Bookmakers had her at 1-8 to win her fifth Wimbledon. Is that what permits some to think there was nothing to it, because this was her fifth title here and her 14th Slam? What peculiar creatures we are, when one win is extraordinary yet a fifth is somehow not five times more extraordinary, but merely mundane. Serena Williams? Oh. Her again.
Nothing is inevitable. Destiny does not exist. There is no free ride on fortune’s back to the great prizes. Those who win them, earn them. They bend what is possible, and stretch what should happen, and alter it to their own blueprint. They get up off the couch and get started.
“This is the beginning of something great, a great phase,” said Serena. “What could top this now? Are you kidding? The US Open, the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon 2013...”
And so ends the latest chapter in The Very Extraordinary Adventures of Serena Williams. And all we can be sure of is that there will be more. She hasn’t finished yet.