Kerber, Serena set to reprise 2016 showdown

Two former World No. 1-ranked players swept their way into the Wimbledon women’s singles final by making quick work of their opponents in two brutally short sets.

Continuing her imperious march, Serena Williams blew away Germany’s Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-4. Earlier on Centre Court, another German, Angelique Kerber, overcame Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-3.

The first of the two matches on Centre Court seemed to hold more promise given the contrasting styles of the two players. Kerber’s resilience and consistency versus Jelena Ostapenko’s capricious ways, a maddening mix of brilliance and error that has shaped a career of highs and lows, of unexpected victories and even more unforeseen defeats.

The first two points played by Ostapenko — who won the French Open in 2017 and crashed out in the first round the following year — were emblematic of the match.

She opened with a double fault and won the next point with a bludgeoning forehand of breathtaking audacity, a pattern that left the audience gasping at her free-flowing brilliance and then gasping again at her appalling blunders right through the game.

High-risk game

But this is the only tennis that the tempestuous 21-year-old Latvian knows. It is a high-risk game, one that doesn’t recognise the meaning of restraint. The ball is hit flat and is almost always searching for the lines, an approach that does nothing to manage the margin for error.

At the beginning of the match, it seemed as if it may just work with the crowd-pleasing Ostapenko mixing her big boisterous hitting with some drop shots, as if to signal that she has soft hands as well. But it was Kerber who played the smarter game, keeping her cool, counter-punching whenever possible, and refusing to be rattled by the screaming winners that her opponent hit time and again.

The German attacked the biggest chink in Ostapenko’s armour — her second serve, which is weak and ineffectual. And waited for the Latvian to make the mistakes, which she did.

In the first set, the experienced Kerber broke twice while the only break point Ostapenko earned was when she was leading 3-2. But Kerber settled that niggle with an ace and went on to hold.

In the second set, the left-handed Kerber quickly went into the lead with Ostapenko choosing to live as dangerously as before. Breaking Ostapenko to go up 2-0, she consolidated the lead by winning her serve and then found herself breaking again for a 5-1 scoreline.

To the crowd’s delight, the Latvian came back strongly winning one of the three break points she had in the next game and then holding her own to reduce the margin 3-5.

But it was too late, even if Ostapenko opened a window of opportunity with a fourth break point on Kerber’s serve only to close it herself with two netted returns of serve after a forehand that drifted aimlessly wide.

The statistics told the story. Ostapenko: Winners (30), Unforced Errors (36); Kerber: Winners (10), Unforced Errors (7). Second serve points won: Ostapenko (41 per cent), Kerber (73 per cent).

Energetic beginning

The semifinal between Williams and Goerges began on a high note, marked by high quality serving and a robust exchange of ground-strokes. Goerges, who has never been so far into a Grand Slam, showed no sign of nerves at all, despite a break-point in her first service game.

In the first five games that went with serve, it was Goerges who made more winners, but it was Williams who broke the German to go up 4-2; after this, there was no looking back.

In the driving seat, Williams, began hitting the ball cleanly and with her customary mesomorphic beauty, holding her serve and then breaking Goerges, this time to love.

The second set followed a similar pattern with Goerges showing both courage and promise in the first half and then falling away a little in the next. A break and a consolidation gave Williams another 5-2 lead. But this time Georges held, and perhaps recognising she had nothing to lose, turned up the aggression to set up three break-points, converting the last with an impressive putaway.

But Williams, who looked disappointed but still unruffled as he has been right through the tournament — so serene that a journalist couldn’t resist asking whether this had something to do with motherhood — reeled off the next four points to break right back and win the match.

Two months away from turning 37, and just 10 months after giving birth to her first child, this extraordinary athlete now has the opportunity to relive the 2016 Wimbledon final, when she played and defeated Kerber. Also, the chance to demonstrate that she is still the very best in the business.

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