The comeback queens

 - Alix Ramsay

A tale of two comebacks: Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final.

Serena Williams se qualifie pour la finale de Wimbledon 2018.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

When they last met in SW19, they were both in their pomp. Serena was the world No.1 and was about to win her seventh title on Centre Court. Kerber, though, was chasing her every step of the way and had already beaten Serena to win the Australian Open, her maiden slam.

Two months after Wimbledon, she would win the US Open and take her place at the top of the rankings pile.

Serena leads the rivalry

Fast forward one year and everything had changed for both women. Serena was at home on maternity leave awaiting the birth of her daughter. Kerber was in meltdown, unable to cope with the pressures, both on-court and off-court, that went with her new status.

Fast forward one more year and both women have rebuilt their lives and their careers. Serena is learning the joys of multi-tasking as a working mum while Kerber has rediscovered her form and motivation – and has learned the lessons of 2017. Then she allowed the business side of tennis, the bit that makes her money, intrude too far into the tennis side of her life, the bit that made it all possible in the first place.

And now they meet again.

The number crunching of the match matters little, although for those who are interested, Serena leads their rivalry with six wins to two. But those wins and losses were back in the days when both of them were in the first phase of their careers. It is all so different now.

Serena Williams se qualifie pour la finale de Wimbledon 2018.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Just ten months later

For a start, Serena almost never made it this far. Her daughter, Olympia, was born by caesarean section but with a long history of blood clots, that caused major complications for the former champion.

“It's no secret I had a super tough delivery,” Serena said. “I lost count after, like, four surgeries because I was in so many surgeries. It was just routine every day, I had to have a new surgery.

“Because of all the blood issues I have, I was really touch-and-go for a minute. I didn't actually know until after my agent, Jill, who is actually more of a friend, but she was saying how much stress it was. I'm glad no one told me at the time I was going through that. Yeah, it was tough. There was a time I could barely walk to my mailbox.”

But just 10 months later, she is back and is, round by round, edging her way back to her best. She is not yet at peak fitness but her tennis and her understanding of how to win has not diminished.

Serena Williams Angelique Kerber finale Wimbledon 2016©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
All but impossible

Those are two key components Kerber lost completely last year. As soon as she started winning major titles, she became a money-making machine. Those in charge of her finances sold her name and image to various new sponsors and these new supporters all wanted her time and her attention. At the same time, every player wanted to beat her. She was the world No.1, she was a double grand slam champion – Kerber’s was a scalp worth having.

With her confidence shredded by the pressures of defending titles and ranking points and her brain frazzled with all her new responsibilities, she was a mess and her ranking was dropping out of the top 20. Enough was enough. She would wipe the slate clean and start again.

This sounded all but impossible at the age of 29. No one can rebuild so completely at that point in the career. But Kerber did rebuild and now back in the top 10 (reaching the final has pushed her up to No.7). She is also playing as she did in 2016. A new coach in Wim Fissette and a new way of tackling things with tennis taking priority over everything has given her a new lease of life.

“I think last year a lot of things happened,” she said. “I think all the things, like to make the day schedule, to see what is good for me, what is not so good for me, to make the priority to playing tennis, focusing on just what I love, finding my motivation. There are a lot of things.”

Joie d'Angelique Kerber en demi-finale de Wimbledon 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Seems like old times

But as they square up to each other on Centre Court, neither woman is picking a favourite.

“She know the feeling to going out on this stage where you are in the finals, especially here,” Kerber said of Serena. “She won here I don't know how many times. She's a fighter. She's a champion. That's why she is there where she is now.”

“A lot of people were saying, Oh, she should be in the final,” Serena said of her own chances. “For me it's such a pleasure and a joy because, you know, less than a year ago I was going through so much stuff.”

Serena against Angie in a Wimbledon final – it seems like old times. And in those old times, it was usually Serena who won.