The long road back to tennis relevance had an abrupt off-ramp Saturday for Serena Williams, who suffered a rare Wimbledon defeat.
Angelique Kerber made short work of the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, beating her 6-3, 6-3 in a brisk 1 hour 5 minutes — or more than four hours quicker than either of the men’s semifinals.
“She played unbelievably today,” said Williams, in her fifth tournament back after giving birth to her first child.
Kerber, the first German woman to win Wimbledon since Steffi Graf in 1996, has now won every major championship except the French Open and succeeded Saturday on what she was unable to do two years ago — defeat Williams in a final on these hallowed grounds.
“To be honest, I was quite nervous before the match,” said Kerber, 30. “But I was trying to told myself, ‘Go out there and play your best match,’ because I know that against Serena I have to play my best tennis, especially in the important moments.”
She essentially played a pristine match, with only five unforced errors compared to 24 by Williams.
“I feel like I have a ways to go,” said Williams, 36, who was unable to extend her record as the oldest Grand Slam singles champion in the Open era. “This is literally just the beginning. It’s good to just continue that path and keep it going.”
Williams was both the betting and sentimental favorite, and had a host of celebrities pulling for her. Among them was Tiger Woods, who was sitting with her family and friends, and Meghan Markle, dutchess of Sussex, who was rooting for her from the royal box.
Even Kerber seemed to be a super-fan, as she was effusive in her praise of Williams after the match.
“Serena for me is a champion,” she said. “She is one of the best players in the world. That she came back after all this up and downs, after having a baby now, playing tennis like she's playing now, that's great.
“To share with her a court, it's always an honor for me because I know she's pushing me to the limits I have to play my best tennis.”
Childbirth was anything but routine for Williams, who had daughter Alexis Olympia in September. After undergoing an emergency C-section, Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism that led to various complications that slowed her recovery.
“I didn’t know a couple of months ago where I was, where I would be, how I would do, how I would be able to come back,” she said. “It was such a long way to see the light at the end of the road.
“So I think these two weeks have really showed me that, OK, I can compete. Obviously, I can compete for the long run in a Grand Slam.”
Kerber, meanwhile, showed she belongs among the elite in the game, even though she was seeded 11th here. It marked the second time she beat Williams for a Grand Slam title, having first done so in the 2016 Australian.
“Playing finals against Serena, you know that she is playing her best tennis,” Kerber said. “That's the matches that she loves. Especially on the center courts. I was trying to not thinking too much that I playing against Serena. I was trying to staying on my side of the court. Staying little bit cool, being not too much emotion.”
Kerber has impressive humility and made news to that effect after her semifinal match when someone snapped a picture of her apparently about to board a double-decker bus like a regular commuter after a dinner in Wimbledon.
Imagine that. Well, it was fake news.
“I saw the picture, but that was wrong,” she said after her match. “I was staying in front of the bus, but I was not taking the bus. I was waiting for my taxi.”
Still, she won Wimbledon, and that’s uber-cool.