LONDON It was third time lucky for American Serena Williams as she finally matched Steffi Graf's professional era record of 22 grand slam singles titles by beating Angelique Kerber to claim a seventh Wimbledon crown on Saturday.
Top seed Williams was forced to play some of her best tennis by resolute Kerber in an engrossing Centre Court duel and her formidable firepower proved decisive in a 7-5 6-3 over her German opponent.
Kerber had stopped Williams in the Australian Open final to win her first grand slam title and last month Spain's Garbine Muguruza also kept the 34-year-old waiting to equal Graf's mark when she beat her in the French Open final.
But this time Williams would not be denied.
To her great credit fourth seed Kerber stayed in contention throughout a fascinating match of contrasting styles, but with the Williams serve at its destructive best there was only so much punishment she could absorb on a blustery court.
The end came quickly when Kerber was broken for the second time in the match in the seventh game of the second set and Williams roared to the title with a love game, sealing victory with a simple volley before joyfully collapsing to the turf.
"It's been incredibly difficult not to think about it (Graf's record)," a smiling Serena said on court as she clutched the Venus Rosewater Dish.
"I had a couple of tries this year but lost to two great opponents, one of them being Angelique. But it makes the victory even sweeter to know how hard I worked for it.
"Thanks you guys for being out here to see number 22, this is awesome," she said to the crowd who were treated to a one hour 21 minute final full of absorbing rallies.
Williams won 38 of 43 points on her first serve and faced only one break point, at 3-3 in the second set, which she saved with one of the 13 booming aces she delivered.
"It's the single greatest weapon in the history of the women's game, followed closely by her will to win," was three-times men's champion John McEnroe's succinct summing up of what keeps world number one Williams in a league of her own.
Kerber had not dropped a set in reaching the final and scuppered hopes of a first all-Williams grand slam final since 2009 when comprehensively beating Venus in the semis.
With a memorable win against Serena in Melbourne, the German walked on court full of belief -- winning the opening point of the final with a cleanly struck forehand.
Williams had three break points in the second game but could not convert any of them.
She bristled with intensity and was bent double, pumping both fists, when winning a long rally at 3-3 as Kerber made her first inroads against the American's serve.
Having coped admirably with the heavy artillery heading her way, Kerber's downfall when serving at 5-6 in the first set was self-inflicted as two poor errors opened the door for Williams to take the opener.
Kerber stuck to her guns in the second set and managed to earn a break point at 3-3 but Williams responded with consecutive aces to deflate the German.
Williams ended up in a heap on the floor in the next game after a close-quarters exchange at the net, but picked herself up to break for a 5-3 lead as Kerber finally crumbled.
Her trusty serve then did the rest as she also joined Graf on seven Wimbledon singles titles.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)
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