Serena, into the semis, vows to ‘keep going’

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — This is what champions do: They reach back, to their past, to their strength. They may struggle. They might fall behind. Then they find a way to win. Which is the reason they are champions.

From the start, when the top seeds were losing one after another, this Wimbledon seemed to belong to Serena Williams. Until the first set of Tuesday’s quarterfinal.

That was taken by Camila Giorgi of Italy, who just happens to serve as hard as Serena.

Down a set, down 0-30 on her serve in a game in the second set, scattering returns, still not tournament ready some 10 months after the birth of her daughter, Williams was in trouble. Or was she?

“No,” said Serena. ”It’s weird. Sometimes I feel, man, I’m in trouble. Sometimes I feel I can fight. For whatever reason, today I was so calm. Even when I was down the first set I thought, ‘Well, she’s playing great. I’m doing a lot of things right. It is what it is.’”

What it turned out to be was a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory for Serena, who when she faces Julia Goerges on Thursday will be playing in her 11th Wimbledon semifinal. Goerges defeated Kiki Bertens, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.

The other semi will be between Jelena Ostapenko, who beat Dominka Cibulkova, 7-5, 6-4, and Angelique Kerber, a 6-3, 7-5 winner over Daria Kasatkina.

Before she became pregnant and left the game, Serena, with seven Wimbledon titles and 23 Grand Slam championships overall, unquestionably was the best women’s player in the sport. But she was away for months, and she’s almost 37. No one knew what to expect, including Serena.

“I think everything right now is a little bit of a surprise,” advised Williams. “To be here, to be in the semifinals, I mean I always say I plan on it. I would like to be there, have these goals. But when it actually happens, it still is like, wow, this is really happening.”

There’s a devious, realistic side to Serena, along with the gee-whiz-ain’t-this-unusual talk. She spoke about being a role model, to her daughter Alexis and other children, and in many ways — as an African-American woman who has worked her way to the top of a mostly white sport — she is.

Yet, as noted and heard that evening at the U.S. Open not too many years ago, when she berated a line judge for calling a foot fault, she can swear with the best — or worst — of anyone. She’s tough, physically, emotionally, verbally. That’s also part of being a champion.

You don’t go on year after year — she won her first Wimbledon in 2002 — without intensity. You go after an opponent. Now and then, you go after an official.

Or did. Mother Serena has compartmentalized her priorities. She says she is prepared for both life and tennis as they are, not what they used to be.

“It’s different now, obviously,” said Serena, “because I have the baby. Being a mom is totally different. Still have to think. ‘Wow, I’m a mom.’ Every day is different for me. Just having an opportunity to win, win matches, just matches in general, with a daughter at home.”

The fire still burns, however.

Asked about her apparent attitude change, Serena — at Wimbledon, she’s called and listed as “Mrs. Williams,” although her husband’s name is Ohanian — said that could be impermanent.

“No, just to be clear, that was just today,” she said of the relaxed approach. “I mean I’m hoping this is like a new thing. I highly doubt it. It was just the way I felt today; I never felt it was out of my hands. I can’t describe it. I just felt calm. Hoping I can channel it, but one day at a time.”

These have to be great days. With a lack of play and lack of points, she dropped to 183rd in the WTA rankings. With the comeback victory over Giorgi, Serena has leaped to 51.

“Well,” she mused, “it’s better than 183. Got to keep tracking on. Serena Williams, 51. It doesn’t have that same ring to it. The ‘1’ part does, but not the ‘5.’ Keep going.”

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