WIMBLEDON, England ó It looked easy again on the grass in the summer sunshine Thursday, but it has been anything but easy for Serena Williams to get back to her accustomed place in a Wimbledon final.
"This is not inevitable for me," she said, moments after defeating Julia GŲrges 6-2, 6-4 in a semifinal on Centre Court.
With 23 major singles titles to her credit, Williams could easily have decided to call it a career when she found out she was pregnant at 35 in early 2017.
She had won all the Grand Slam singles and doubles trophies at least twice, but she decided on her plan before giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, last September. She stuck with the decision to return to the tour despite enduring serious complications after the delivery.
"I had to have multiple surgeries, and I almost didnít make it, to be honest," she said. "I remember I couldnít even walk to my mailbox, so itís definitely not normal for me to be in a Wimbledon final. So Iím taking everything as it is and just enjoying every moment."
Her victory over GŲrges, the No. 13 seed, set up quite an occasion Saturday, when Williams will face No. 11 Angelique Kerber in a rematch of the 2016 final. Williams won that match in two tight sets. It is also a chance for Williams to equal Margaret Courtís long-standing record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
If Williams can pull that off, where might it rank on her list of career achievements?
"Top of the heap," said Chris Evert, the former Wimbledon champion and No. 1.
In the past, Williams has often looked like she was exorcising personal demons in the latter stages of major tournaments ó the power in her strokes matched by the fire in her eyes.
The grunts and ferocious focus were still there Thursday against GŲrges, who put up more resistance than the final score might indicate. But when the Germanís last shot soared long, Williams did not flex her muscles and show a sense of relief or release.
This time, she looked toward her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, family and friends quite calmly and smiled.
"I donít even know how to feel because I literally didnít expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back in 16 months," she said. "I just feel when I donít have anything to lose, I can play so free."
Being free of pressure has helped Kerber too. In 2016, she beat Williams in the 2016 Australian Open final before losing to her at Wimbledon. Two months later, Kerber won the U.S. Open and rose to the No. 1 ranking.
But the expectations that came with backing up the best season of her career weighed heavily on Kerber. In 2017, she failed to advance past the fourth round at any major, and her ranking dropped to No. 21.
But under her new coach, Wim Fissette, Kerber, 30, has returned to form and is back in a Grand Slam final after a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Jelena Ostapenko.
After Ostapenko took a 3-2 lead in the first set, Kerber won the next seven games to take control of the match. Ostapenko gave her plenty of help, piling up 36 unforced errors to Kerberís seven over the course of the match.