One of Simona Halep’s biggest motivations to win Wimbledon was to get a life-time membership of the coveted All England Club. Before the final, she had hoped that the Duchess of Cambridge would cheer for her from the Royal Box.
On Sunday, her tennis was just as regal and majestic, as she dispatched seven-time winner Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 in just 56 minutes to clinch her first Wimbledon and second Major title. She is now the first Romanian to win the singles crown at SW19. The mercurial Ilie Nastase was a two-time finalist in 1972 and 1976.
“Have you ever played a better match,” Halep was asked after the victory. “Never,” was the pat answer. “It was my mum’s dream. When I was 10 or 12 she had told me that If I had to do something in tennis, I had to play the Wimbledon final. So, thanks to my mum,” 27-year-old said with a wide grin.
For Serena, it was a third successive loss in a Major final since her return from maternity and she is still one short of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Majors. If the defeat hurt, the 37-year-old hid it rather well, wholesome as she was in her praise for Halep.
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“She literally played out of her mind,” Serena said. “It was a little bit of ‘deer in the headlights’ for me. Whenever a player plays that amazing you have got doff your hat. I don’t think I could have done anything differently. Simona played her heart out. May be one thing I can learn is to be like her.”
Just that Serena wasn’t allowed to even be half as good. Piling pressure early on is something Serena excels at. On Saturday it was Halep, on her first Wimbledon final, who started at a frenetic pace. She was up 5-1 in no time, racking up eight winners to zero unforced errors. She was at her counter-punching best – she is, after all, clay-court natural – and guessed nearly every Serena shot right.
Two points in her hold from 5-2 to take the set provided a snapshot of the whole match. At 15-15, Serena sent a powerful cross-court backhand – accompanied with a huge unnerving cry – that would have been beyond most players’ reach. Halep went scurrying after and pulled the ball back at such an extreme angle that Serena couldn’t get it beyond the net. The next point was a near-repeat, this time ending with a volley landing beyond the baseline.
“She was getting so many balls back,” Serena said. “I generally have a strategy for players who do that. But today I just thought about it far too late.”
It was not just Halep’s defence that stood out. After she broke to go 3-2 up in the second set, Serena pressured her serve. But from 15-30 she landed two perfect serves to wriggle out of trouble. Three more in the eighth game, gave her the match. Overall, she won 34 of 46 service points and had just three unforced errors to Serena’s 26. It was Wimbledon performance that would have made her great American opponent proud.