Wimbledon 2018: Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber's contrasting playing styles promise scintillating women's final

After a chaotic, wild, seeds-unfriendly two weeks of Wimbledon, we are finally here on Ladies' Final day. Big names fell in less than four days. Little known names made themselves known.

By Manic Monday, there was only one top-10 seed remaining on the women's side — Karolina Pliskova. She fell to Kiki Bertens in their fourth-round match leaving Angelique Kerber, putting together a stellar year after a disappointing 2017, the highest remaining seed in the tournament at 11.

Kerber was unfazed by her colleagues falling by the wayside as she continued quietly dismantling players of different calibre. Caroline Garcia, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki — just some of the names that packed their bags by the time middle Sunday rolled along. Kerber had a tricky encounter against former Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva in the first round followed by one of WTA's promising lot in Naomi Osaka in the third round.

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber meet in the women's singles final at Wimbledon. Reuters

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber meet in the women's singles final at Wimbledon. Reuters

If you look back, Kerber has been challenged by some of the youngest and talented players in the women's game today. There might have been straight-set wins but each of them has tested her in different ways and closer than the numbers suggest. Belinda Bencic put together a great tournament after a long injury layoff and played a superb match, and yet couldn't find a way past the defence of Kerber. Daria Kasatkina brought all her weapons along, wowed the Centre Court crowd with her jumping backhands and leaping drop shots but Kerber had the patience to counter Kasatkina's finesse. In Jelena Ostapenko, Kerber ran into a player who is always trigger happy, but the German kept her discipline while Ostapenko lost hers.

If we talk about top seeds falling, there is one player, the very top of tennis royalty, who had no problems getting to this day — Serena Williams. In the run up to the Grand Slams this year there have been lot of chatter about Williams' seeding given that she was making a return after giving birth to a child. It is a much-needed conversation that involves other players too trying to get back into the top of the game, like Victoria Azarenka. Even Zvonareva, who qualified for Wimbledon for the first time since 2014, is on the long road back after motherhood and hiatus.

Williams was finally seeded 25, but through the six rounds, she's played like she never was away, which is kind of true because the last time Williams played Wimbledon, she was the champion. She came up with the kind of tennis that obliterated every opponent on the way, and in hindsight, it wouldn't have mattered what part of the draw she was placed in.

After the birth of her child and medical complications thereafter, Williams made a gradual return to the tennis circuit. Make no mistake, we are marvelling at her game these past two weeks because we got a glimpse of a rusty Williams through Indian Wells and Miami in March when she returned.

In a matter of four months, the old Williams with her old serve and ground game has come to the fore on the grasscourts of Wimbledon. She has improved through the rounds and Williams is now playing such clean tennis that from here on, in any upcoming tournament, it is hard not to pencil her in as the favourite.

The beauty of this Wimbledon edition is that after all the drama, we still have a scintillating final on the cards with two marquee names. Their games too match up well and if their recent history means anything, a terrific final is in store.

Kerber had a string of bad 2017 results after her Grand Slam breakthrough at the Australian Open and US Open in 2016. She beat Williams in Melbourne and lost to her in London. If not for Karolina Pliskova we would have gotten a third Williams-Kerber final at US Open that year, which Kerber took for her second Grand Slam.

But the players are coming back from the brink, but for different reasons altogether, and both have a point to prove. Williams is getting back to where she belongs and at the same time chasing Margeret Court's number of 24 Grand Slam titles. Kerber would like to win the coveted Wimbledon title that she came close to in 2016 in a hard-fought final.

Williams, the greatest of all time, possesses the greatest serve in history. Kerber is one of the meanest returners on tour whose defensive game has the weapons to match Williams, racquet head to racquet head, lefty to righty.

If you look at the longest rally count column for the women on the Wimbledon website, the first few results have one line occurring multiple times — "Kerber wins the point." That will be key for a counter-puncher like Kerber — prolonging the rallies, keeping Williams on the move at all times, and effectively defending Williams' angles, which someone like Kerber is better at than anyone on tour.

Kerber leads the returns made this tournament at 88 percent and has won 47 percent of her return games. Williams will be tough to crack, she has won 89 percent of her service games and 80 percent of her first serve points. Both have dropped one set in their road to the final.

In the press conference after her semi-finals, Kerber said of Williams that she's a champion, always pushing you to play the best tennis, finishing with "This is the only chance to beat her." It is an old final in a new bottle. The head-to-head numbers (Williams leads 6-2) can sometimes distract from the real narrative. Attack vs defence. Left vs right. All bets are off.


Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 13:22 PM

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