Serena Williams Wins Seventh Wimbledon, Serena Williams celebrates during her match against Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final Saturday. Williams won, tying Steffi Graf’s Open-era record for most major titles.
On May 29, 2012 — four years before her record-tying win Saturday in the Wimbledon final — Serena Williams looked further from Steffi Graf’s Open-era record 22 Grand Slam titles than she had in a decade. On that day, Williams, ranked fifth in the world, was facing No. 111 Virginie Razzano. Razzano, a Frenchwoman, was playing in front of a home crowd a year after her fiance and former coach had died of cancer. Williams had won every one of the 46 first-round Grand Slam matches she’d played. But Razzano upset her in three sets. Williams’s Grand Slam title drought extended to nearly two years.
Williams was 30 years old, and older than Graf was when she’d won her 22nd major. Williams had 13. Graf had spent 186 straight weeks at No. 1 in her prime. Williams had never managed to stay there more than 57 weeks in a row. After her loss, a reporter asked her about Razzano’s personal tragedy. Williams pointed out that she’d come back from her own health scares, and her sister was playing with a fatigue-inducing syndrome. “I know her story,” Williams said. “We all have stories. I mean, I almost died and Venus is struggling herself. It’s life. It just depends on how you deal with it.”
The way Williams has dealt with that loss is breathtaking. Soon after, she began working with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. She worked on her fitness and her tactics, and she made her strengths stronger, somehow improving what was already the best serve in the sport. She has won nine of 17 majors since that loss, after beating Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final, 7-5, 6-3, on Saturday.
Williams has made up for lost time. She’d been well behind the pace of Graf and other all-time greats in majors. But her nine majors since turning 30 are one more than the combined total won by Graf, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Margaret Court in their 30s. Williams is now almost 35 — a year older than Navratilova was when she won her final major title.
The media often call her queen, but unlike her Wimbledon Snapchat companion, Serena Williams isn’t royalty. She’s an athlete. She didn’t achieve her reign by birth or marriage. She earned it, and it was never guaranteed. Her achievement of 22 major titles is also the story of the 42 majors she entered and didn’t win, including the last three before this year’s Wimbledon. All three times she came so close to winning, reaching the last round or two, and then ran into an inspired, fearless opponent. She did again today, and won anyway.
“It makes the victory even sweeter to know how hard I worked for it,” she said in her on-court interview after the Wimbledon final with the BBC’s Sue Barker.