Serena Williams was reduced to tears by her daughter Olympia’s first steps at Wimbledon, but now the seven-time champion is planning a giant leap of her own in Saturday’s final against Angelique Kerber.
Just 10 months after giving birth, Williams can complete an incredible comeback as she bids to become the first mother to win the tournament for 38 years.
Williams is playing only her fourth tournament since Olympia’s arrival in September and is now just one win away from her eighth Wimbledon title. That would make her the first mother to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish since Evonne Goolagong in 1980.
Serena can also equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles if she beats Kerber. Court and Kim Clijsters are the other mothers to have won major titles – making Serena’s presence in the final even more incredible given the difficulties she has endured since she last played at Wimbledon in 2016.
The 36-year-old’s pregnancy ended with a complicated delivery that left her needing several operations to prevent life-threatening blood clots. Williams was forced to stay in bed for six weeks and could barely walk as she recovered from the traumatic experience.
“It’s no secret I had a super tough delivery. I lost count after, like, four surgeries because I was in so many,” she said.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion insists the pain was all worthwhile now she has memories like watching Olympia learning to walk for the first time at Wimbledon.
As for her own progress on the court, Serena claims she is still working her way back, but she believes the final provides a chance to hit peak form.
“I was expecting a few more baby steps from myself. I still feel like I’m in that place,” Williams said.
“I’ve said it all week, this is only my fourth tournament back.
“I want to take a giant step forward, keep taking giant steps, keep improving.”
If anyone would be able to return from such a debilitating experience, it would be Serena.
The American’s fiercely competitive streak fuelled her rise from the bullet-riddled courts of Compton in south-central Los Angeles, and she remains as driven as ever.
Making a mockery of Wimbledon’s decision to seed her a lowly 25th, Williams has powered through the draw, getting stronger with each match.
She arrives in her 30th Grand Slam final – her 10th at Wimbledon on a 20-match winning run on the lawns of south-west London.
That streak dates back to Williams’s titles on her last two visits in 2016 and 2015 and she is the odds-on favourite to see off Kerber, who she beat in the All England Club title match two years ago.
“I can’t say it’s the one I’m most proud of. I can’t say it’s not. I’m so in a zone in terms of just wanting to keep playing,” she said.
“Being here and having an opportunity to play is super great for me.”
Asked about the historic dimensions of her potential triumph this weekend, Serena played down the implications to avoid giving her opponent even more motivation.
“To be perfectly honest, I haven’t thought about that this tournament. Not even once actually,” said Serena, who will be cheered on from the Royal Box by her friend the Duchess of Sussex.
“It’s just a number. I want to get as many as I can. I still have a match to win, so I’m not even there yet.”
For German 11th seed Kerber, winning Wimbledon for the first time – at the expense of the woman who denied her in 2016 – would be a sweet moment.
The 30-year-old has bounced back from a terrible 2017 and is close to the form that brought her the Australian and US Open titles two years ago.
“Wimbledon is a really special place. I think everybody knows this tournament. It would be really special to win,” she said.
“With 2016, all the success, 2017, with a few up and downs, to coming back this year, I think I learned so many things about me.”