LONDON — July 12, 2019: A game that was honed on the sandy beaches of the Black Sea coast of Constanta will be on show for the world to savour in Saturday’s final as Simona Halep earned a chance to fulfil one of her mother’s cherished dreams.
So what if the opponent facing her is an American great in pursuit of a record 24th Grand Slam title? Who cares if the Romanian has won only one of her previous 10 meetings with Serena Williams?
As far as Halep is concerned, her 6-1 6-3 semi-final win over Elina Svitolina meant that her mother Tania will finally get to experience something she has been dreaming of for more than a decade.
“About 10, 15 years ago she said her dream is to (see me) play a final in Wimbledon because everyone is here, (including the royals and the celebrities who sit in) the Royal Box (on Centre Court),” said a beaming Halep.
“She said it would be an unbelievable moment.
“So today her dream came true as I will play a final. It’s a very special moment. To be able to play Wimbledon final, it’s pretty amazing. I will enjoy for sure.”
Considering Halep developed her baseline skills “on the sand and also in the water of the sea”, it is perhaps unsurprising that she was initially considered something of a claycourt specialist. The French Open has been her most successful major with three final appearances – including a win last year.
But her run to the Wimbledon final not only proved that her game is no longer one-dimensional as it was in the past, when she would only venture off the baseline as a last resort, but that she also has the weapons to make an impact on the sport’s slickest surface.
“I have a better game these days. I play some drop shots,” said Halep, who came out on top in eight of the 10 net points she was engaged in on Thursday.
“I use the slice more. The serve is helping me. Now when the ball is coming to me, I know what to do with it.
“I can play everywhere, against anyone. I know how to change some things when (things) don’t work very well,” added Halep, who would have contested Grand Slam finals on three different surfaces come Saturday as she also finished runner-up at the Australian Open last year.
“I feel confident and I’m not scared any more about how the ball bounces. And also I feel stable on my legs, which is very important on the grass.”
Being more sure-footed on turf means the Romanian, who admits she is a lover of chocolate, ice cream and cheesecake, cannot wait to turn up for Saturday’s final.
“It’s a great feeling to face Serena in a Grand Slam final,” said the 27-year-old.
“I’m desperate to win Wimbledon more than to stop her. I will focus on myself. I’m not thinking about her record. Her records are huge already.
“If you are able to win, makes it sweeter.”
And should Halep triumph, her mother may well get the chance to sit in the Royal Box next year — considering the All England Club invites the parents of title holders to see their opening match from a seat that money cannot buy.
Williams into her 11th singles final at Wimbledon
There were no intimidating roars of “c’mon”, few fist pumps and the volume was turned down on the grunting that often accompanies her matches.
Perhaps Serena Williams did not need to amp it up against out-matched Czech Barbora Strycova in a 6-1 6-2 trouncing on a sunny Centre Court. It was that easy.
Maybe she is saving the growl for the final when, for the third time, she will stand one win away from matching Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams singles titles.
But then again, perhaps not.
There have been a few anxious moments along the way, a couple of dropped sets, but for the most part it has been a smooth ride for Williams who has settled into the groove that has earned her seven Wimbledon singles titles.
The serve is functioning like clockwork, the booming forehand looks potent and her movement is as good as fluid as at any time since she returned to the Tour last March having given birth to daughter Olympia in 2017.
The pressure will ramp up in the next 24 hours, especially after falling short in her last two Grand Slam finals — here last year against Angelique Kerber and then, infamously in New York where Serena lost her cool in defeat by Naomi Osaka.
But Williams, who will become the oldest woman in the professional era to contest a Grand Slam final on Saturday, is taking it all in her stride.
“Looking back, to even be in those two finals last year was unbelievable,” the 37-year-old told reporters. “Now I’m in a different place. Like I just am more calm.
“Instead of having nothing to lose, I feel like I have things to lose, but I also have nothing to lose.
“It’s like I’m in the middle. I’m in a different place because I wasn’t really playing a month ago, at all. So it’s all kind of coming together.
“I’m not getting over-pumped, but at the same time not getting under-wound. I have to be in that right space.”
Williams also said the number 24 is becoming an obsession for the media who talk of little else.
“I actually didn’t think about it since it’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25. It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort no matter what,” she said.
“No matter what I do, I will always have a great career.”
Williams has served 45 aces on her way to the final and won three quarters of points on her first serve.
Ominously for Halep, who has lost nine of her 10 previous matches against Williams, the American 11th seed says there is more to come from her weapon of choice.
“I don’t know if I’ve had my best serves this tournament. I’ve had some big ones,” said Williams, whose fastest delivery so far stands at 122mph. “Two weeks ago in the tournament, I was like, ‘oh, my God, I forgot about my serve’.
“It was kind of back. It felt good.” — Reuters