For the third time this 2016 season, Serena Williams finds herself in a familiar position: one win away from equaling Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
For the second time this season, the World No. 1 will face Germany’s Angelique Kerber with a record-tying major title on the line.
Will Saturday’s final be the moment Serena makes history?
“My goal has never been 22,” Serena said after her clinical 6-2, 6-0 victory over Russian Elena Vesnina on Thursday. “I don't talk about that anymore.”
Since winning her sixth title at the All England club a year ago, Serena has put herself within one major title of Graf’s Open Era record. She’s been stopped in three attempts: In New York at the 2015 U.S. Open, Roberta Vinci stunned Serena in the semifinals and this year, she was beaten by Kerber in the Australian Open final in January and by Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final last month.
“I think I've been training my mind for years and years, and I've been preparing for these moments for decades,” Serena said. “I feel like it's been experience and it's been success, it's been failure, it's been everything that created the opportunity for me to be able to be ready in those situations.”
Kerber beat five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday to advance to her second major final, and the 2016 Wimbledon title match will be the first time that two players will meet in two different major finals in the same year since Amelie Mauresmo beat Justine Henin in the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals in 2006.
“I think for sure I will go out there with a lot of confidence,” Kerber said of facing Serena. “At the end it's a completely new match. We are playing on grass court. She lost the final against me, and I know she will go out and try everything to beat me right now.
“I will just try to going out there like in Australia, trying to show her, okay, I'm here to win the match, as well. I know that I have to play my best tennis to beat her in the final here.”
Serena leads their head-to-head record 5–2, with Kerber’s wins coming in the final in Melbourne this year, 6–4, 3–6, 6–4, and in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati in 2012, where she beat Serena in straight sets 6–4, 6–4. After her losses this year, Serena says she’s more relaxed with her game.
“Sometimes when you are fighting, sometimes you want something so bad, it can hinder you a little bit. Now I'm just a little bit more calm,” she said. “Doesn't mean that I have less competitive[ness] at all. I think confidence brews peace and calm in champions. I think that's how I feel.”
Serena’s win over Vesnina on Thursday guarantees she will remain the World No. 1 after Wimbledon for a 178th-straight week. With Graf’s record mark at 186 weeks, Serena would have to say on top of the rankings until the week after the U.S. Open to break the record.
Kerber has not dropped a set en route to her first Wimbledon final and she now leads the WTA in match wins this season with 34. The German will once again have to find motivation from her fellow countrywoman and idol Graf, who was the last German to win the title at the All England Club in 1996.
“I know that 20 years ago she won here the last time. Of course, I will try to be the next one to win here after Steffi,” Kerber said.
Serena will look to win her first Grand Slam title in a year on Saturday and the match will also mark Serena’s third consecutive appearance major final. Serena says the feat is “a wonderful accomplishment,” but she wants more.
“For me, it's about obviously holding the trophy and winning, which would make it a better accomplishment for me,” she said. “For me, it's not enough. But I think that's what makes me different. That's what makes me Serena.”