Sports

Simona Halep wins Wimbledon title to deny Serena Williams record-tying victory

Day Twelve: The Championships - Wimbledon 2019
Simona Halep and Serena Williams embrace after Halep won the Wimbledon women’s final in straight sets Saturday.
(Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images)

Welcome to the club, Simona Halep.

That’s the prestigious All England Lawn Tennis Club, where Halep now has a lifetime membership by virtue of her victory Saturday in the Wimbledon women’s singles final.

And welcome to a different club — the collection of players to dispatch the suddenly vulnerable Serena Williams, the greatest player in the history of women’s tennis

Halep, 27, who previously had won just one of 10 matches against Williams, made light work of her at Centre Court, 6-2, 6-2, finishing in a breezy 56 minutes.

Williams, the seven-time Wimbledon singles champion, was down 4-0 in the first 11 minutes.

“It was a little bit of deer in the headlights,” said Williams, gracious and upbeat in her midcourt remarks immediately after the match. “Whenever a player plays that amazing, you just kind of have to take your nod on the head and congrats for all the hard work.”

Whereas Williams was looking to become the second woman to win eight or more Wimbledon singles titles — Martina Navratilova has nine — this marked Halep’s debut in the finals of the storied tournament.

“Well, I had nerves,” Halep said. “My stomach was not very well before the match, but I knew there was no time for emotions. I just came on court and gave it my best.”

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It was Halep who looked like the seasoned pro, with the former two-time world No. 1 player moving Williams from side to side and chasing down shots that looked unreachable. It was reminiscent of Angelique Kerber’s 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Williams in last year’s Wimbledon finals.

As for the dominating serve of Williams, a blistering weapon that had been working throughout the tournament, it never materialized. She had just two aces after leading the tournament with 45 heading into the final.

Halep, the first Romanian to win a Wimbledon singles title, will collect the equivalent of $2,954,000, along with a lifetime membership to the exclusive tennis club.

“I wanted this badly,” she said. “When I started the tournament, I talked to the people from the locker room that my dream is to become a member here. So today it’s real, and I’m really happy.”

In the run-up to the final, Williams played only one opponent ranked in the top 20 — No. 17 Julia Goerges. Halep is ranked seventh.

Williams, whose last tournament win came 2 1/2 years ago at the 2017 Australian Open, is stuck on 23 Grand Slam victories, one shy of the record held by Margaret Court.

Williams has not won a major championship since the 2017 Australian Open. At 37 years and 291 days, Williams had a chance to become the oldest person to win a Grand Slam.

In the men’s final , Roger Federer has a chance to break that record in his match against Novak Djokovic. Federer is 49 days older than Williams. Those two are the most popular players at Wimbledon by far. Driving the feverish demand for tickets is that fans understand those two players are in the twilight of their careers, and they won’t be around forever.

“No matter which way you look at it, we’re not going to be out here in the next three, four, five years,” said Williams, whose winnings Sunday ($1.48 million) increased her career prize money to more than $90 million. “The time is now to get out there and to watch us play, I guess.”

This Wimbledon was filled with story lines on the women’s side. There was the torrent of interest in the effervescent Coco Gauff, an unseeded 15-year-old American who shocked five-time champion Venus Williams in the opening round, then pulled off two more upsets before losing in the fourth round to eventual finalist Halep.

Kerber was knocked out in the second round, and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty was eliminated in the fourth.

Local favorite Johanna Konta, the British No. 1, suffered a surprising defeat to the unseeded Barbora Strycova, a player on the verge of retirement.

TENNIS-GBR-WIMBLEDON
Simona Halep watches Serena Williams return a shot during their women's final at Wimbledon on Saturday.
(Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images)

In the news conference that followed, Konta got testy with reporters, saying: “Please don’t patronize me. No, no, you are. In the way you’re asking your question, you’re being quite disrespectful and you’re patronizing me.

“I’m a professional competitor who did her best today, and that’s all there is to that.”

Then, there was the resurfacing of Williams, who came into Wimbledon having played just 12 matches this year because of injuries and illness. In her last four Grand Slam events she showed a repeated inability to finish strong.

Williams was brushed aside by Kerber in last year’s Wimbledon final, then melted down in the U.S. Open final against 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, drawing penalties for a coaching violation, smashing her racket in frustration, and calling the chair umpire “a thief.”

In the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in February, she had a 5-1 lead in the third set against Karolina Pliskova and was serving on match point. Not only did Williams lose that point, but she didn’t win another game and lost the match.

Finally, in last month’s French Open, she was eliminated in the third round by unseeded American Sofia Kenin, and wound up staying in France after the tournament for medical treatment on her knee.

“I just have to figure out a way to win a final,” Williams said. “Maybe it is playing other finals outside of Grand Slams would be really helpful just to kind of get in the groove, so by the time I get to a Grand Slam final, I’m kind of used to what to do and how to play.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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