Usually, when Serena plays a Grand Slam final, a preview will begin with a few obligatory notes about how well her opponent has played to reach this stage, and how she’ll have a chance if Serena has an off day. Then the real talk begins—i.e., Serena will probably win, because that’s what she does in matches like these. And usually, those previews are right: She’s 23-6 in Grand Slam finals.
This time, though, there’s good reason to believe that Serena’s opponent really can translate her good form into a win. That’s because Kerber handed the American one of her six major-final defeats, at the 2016 Australian Open. They played again in the Wimbledon final that year, and while Williams won in a tight two-setter, the experience of having been in a Wimbledon final, which feels different from all other matches, should help the German on Saturday.
WATCH—Match point from Serena's win over Julia Goerges in Wimbledon semis:
Most importantly for Kerber, over the fortnight she has played her best, most determined, most positive-minded tennis in nearly two years. Instead of getting down on herself, as she has been known to do, she has fought back tooth and nail every time she has faced any adversity. She knew that, with all 10 players who were seeded above her falling by the wayside, this was an opportunity she had to grab. Now she has her chance.
Kerber can grab it the same way she did in Melbourne: By making Serena hit as many shots as possible, winning a few key points with her wide lefty serve, and hitting her passing shots with precision. Serena has faced just one seed, Julia Goerges, so far in this tournament, and Kerber is a much tougher out than her countrywoman.
WATCH—Match point from Kerber's win over Jelena Ostapenko in Wimbledon semis:
As for Serena, she obviously needs to have a good serving day. More importantly, I’d say she needs to have a clear set of tactics during rallies. When she gains the advantage in a point, does she come forward, or does she try to end it from the baseline? Coming forward is usually the most efficient play, but it worked against her when she faced Kerber in Australia. That’s where Wimbledon’s grass may help Serena; against Goerges she hit with pace and depth, but fairly conservatively, and let the surface do its work.
All of which leads me back to where I started. Kerber has a very good chance, and nobody should be surprised if she wins. But this is Serena playing in a Grand Slam final. I picked her to win at the start of the tournament, and I’m not stopping now.
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.