Angelique Kerber follows in Steffi Graf’s footsteps to claim the Wimbledon title, denying Serena Williams

Hannah Wilks in Wimbledon 14 Jul 2018
  • Angelique Kerber wins the ladies' singles title at Wimbledon 2018
  • Kerber defeated Serena Williams 6-3, 6-3 to claim her third major title
  • Watch and bet on tennis live from Wimbledon at bet365 > live streaming > tennis (geo-restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)
Angelique Kerber with the Venus Rosewater Dish

Angelique Kerber denies Serena Williams an eighth Wimbledon title by securing her first.

Williams was aiming to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams and become the fourth woman in the Open Era to win a major title as a mother, but in a rematch of the 2016 final, it was Kerber who secured a historic victory, defeating Williams 6-3, 6- to become Germany’s first Wimbledon singles champion since Steffi Graf in 1996.

Williams had looked in great form despite a severe lack of match fitness as she secured wins over Camila Giorgi and Julia Goerges in the quarterfinals and semifinals. But she hadn’t faced an opponent of Kerber’s experience and presence, nor with the German left-hander’s ability to test certain aspects of Williams’s game – the very ones, it turned out, to be lacking.

The stat you will hear a lot about is the 24 unforced errors Williams hit after successfully keeping that count down below double digits in her semifinal match, and certainly the American’s mistakes were a major factor in the match. 

But so was Kerber: Her improved serving, her trademark defense and above all, her willingness to go for her shots and risk making errors – and in the end, making only five as she recorded a brilliant victory, her second over Williams in a Grand Slam final. 

In a match that started over two hours later than it was supposed to and on a half-full Centre Court, thanks to the Wimbledon referees’ decision to schedule the resumption of the semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at 1pm on Centre Court and relegate the women to follow with no fixed start time, Williams started brightly with a pin-point forehand winner into the corner. But perhaps it was not a good sign that she felt as if she had to go for such a risky winner so early in the point and the match, and so it proved as Williams made a rush of backhand errors before Kerber’s defense kept her in the rally long enough for Williams to bury a short forehand in the net and give up the break.

Almost as much as we take Williams’s overall greatness for granted, we take Kerber’s defensive abilities as read and rarely think about what it takes, in terms of athleticism, explosive movement, footwork and ability to anticipate the ball, to run everything own – and that’s just to get there, without being able to send everything back, no matter how hard it’s hit, within inches of the baseline and do it over and over and over again in a rally.

But part of Kerber’s own greatness is that, in all sorts of ways, you don’t see her coming, and she kept stinging Williams with the unexpected today. While the American broke back for 2-2 and then held with her first ace and her hardest serve of the tournament at 125mph, Kerber stopped the run of games against her by using her ability to get low to the ball, and thus absorb missile-like returns from Williams without surrendering court positioning, to hold for 3-3 despite Williams getting depth on all the returns in that game and landing them in.

Another thing Williams didn’t see coming was how improvisational Kerber was prepared to be. The drop shot to bring Williams in to net had been a key tactic for Kerber when she won the 2016 Australian Open final, and she played one to fine effect to get to 0-15 at 3-3. Williams double-faulted twice to go down 0-40, and then had to take pace off her first serve on the following deliveries to ensure it would land in. It worked twice but on the third, Kerber took full advantage of a second serve to get her teeth into the rally and Williams shaded long to give up the break again.
Kerber not only held to 15, she immediately pressed to 0-30 with a dipping forehand pass that elicited a forehand volley from Williams into the net. The American showed some better tennis in the next point, building the rally more patiently and trusting herself to hang in it, but a deep return from Kerber brought up set point and the German converted with terrific depth from her forehand, pushing Williams around until the American gave up the error.

Kerber impressed again as she gave Williams no real chance to get into her service game to start the second set, but the American, pushed to 15-30, held to end the run of five games against her in a game highlighted by correctly reading Kerber’s pass for a backhand volley. It was Williams, trying desperately to flick the switch and start reeling off the games as we’ve seen her do so many times, who pressed to 15-30 on Kerber’s serve at 1-1 – but once more, it was Kerber’s courage more than anything which got her out of trouble. Struggling to hang with Williams in a long rally, Kerber tried for a drop-shot and lob combination, but her lob was so short that it actually surprised Williams into volleying it tamely into the open court, only for the German to chase it down and send the forehand winner down the line for 30-30. Kerber held thanks to that point, and at 2-2, Williams let her off the hook again after getting to deuce with a couple of backhand errors.

Every time Williams seemed to be playing better, she got herself into trouble with a mistake. Meanwhile, the pressure from the other end stayed smothering and consistent even as Kerber kept mixing up her tactics. At 2-3, Kerber chased everything down to pressure an error from Williams for 15-30; Williams attacked the net, but again the Kerber pass forced a difficult shot which popped up and the German raced over to whip it into the open court for a winner for two break points, converting the second with a clean winner down the line on her forehand.

That moment of boldness put Kerber up 4-2, and while Williams would hold to force the German to serve it out, Kerber was equal to the task, starting with a biting service winner to the Williams forehand. Williams got on top of the next point but was brought to her knees on the turf by missing a drive volley, and although a backhand drop shot winner and then a second-serve return winner got the American to 30-30, again it was Kerber who kept her nerve, getting Williams on the run and then calmly redirecting the ball down the line for championship point. It was fitting, given the significance of her improved serving in this win, that it was a service winner which closed it out for Kerber.

The German showed all the emotion that had been absent during the match, dropping on to her back and bursting into tears, while Williams crossed the net to embrace her warmly.

Williams’s disappointment showed plainly, both during her on-court interview when her voice wobbled and failed her – ‘For all the moms out there, I was playing for you and I tried’ – and when, in a gesture that spoke louder than words, she left her runner-up plate on her chair as she left the court alongside the beaming Kerber and the Venus Rosewater Dish. But ultimately, it was just too few matches against top-level opposition for the American coming into this match, whose incredible run to the final should have exceeded all expectations – and if it didn’t, that’s our problem, not hers.

‘I'm already deciphering what I need to improve on, what I need to do, what I did wrong, why I did it wrong, how I can do better, that whole madness that goes on in my mind,’ Williams said. ‘Then I'm saying, “Okay, I do improve with losses. We'll see how it goes.”

‘I think these two weeks have really showed me that I can compete. Obviously, I can compete for the long run in a Grand Slam. I can come out and be a contender to win Grand Slams.’

The day belongs to Kerber, though, who proved that her Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and the US Open in 2016 were no fluke. It’s no secret that 2017, which saw Kerber plummet out of the top 20 and struggle in the spotlight, unable to carry the WTA Tour and thrive as the world no. 1, was a long, bitter season for the left-hander, but there could be no clearer expression of being tested and rising above adversity than her win today. By personality an introvert, by game style a defensive counter-puncher, she stayed true to herself in the match that she played on Centre Court while also replacing timidity with courage, doubt with determination. She’s a Wimbledon champion.

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Angelique Kerber follows in Steffi Graf’s footsteps to claim the Wimbledon title, denying Serena Williams

Angelique Kerber becomes the first German woman since Steffi Graf to claim the Wimbledon title as she defeats seven-time champion Serena Williams 6-3, 6-3

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