WIMBLEDON – There will be plenty of stories describing how Simona Halep played the match of her life to win her first Wimbledon Saturday.
There will be others that will point to how Serena Williams – faced with making history once more – could not step up to the plate.
Hopefully they’ll mostly be sympathetic. We might not be able to fathom being in that situation. But we know how much Williams wants it.
Maybe too much.
If many fans watch tennis matches through the rose-coloured glasses of their support of one player or the other, the reality in most tennis matches is there are usually two concurrent stories.
Halep played in the zone, almost with blinders on. Only three unforced errors blemished her scorecard.
But Williams allowed her to play that way.
At no point during the 56-minute, 6-2, 6-2 loss did Williams come roaring back to put Halep under championship pressure. It’s a lot easier to be in the zone when your opponent is unable to successfully push you out of it. Halep never had to really see what she was made of on this day.
Maybe she would have been made of championship stuff regardless. If sort of felt that way at times, didn’t it? But we’ll never know. You know Williams wishes she could have given her that test.
That doesn’t mean Halep doesn’t fully deserve the victory. She did what she had to do on Saturday. She had a brilliant tournament.
That’s just … what happened.
The Wimbledon wish list
You get the feeling Halep may have thought she’d never win Wimbledon. By now, she believed the slippery footing negatively affected what she considers to be her biggest strength: her movement.
But grass is a tricky mistress. The season is so short, it takes exponentially longer to figure out how to play on it. And there aren’t a lot of coaches out there – not even British ones – who are so well-rounded that they can impart specific grass-court strategy from the get-go.
This year, Halep figured out a few things. She figured out that maybe what grass took away, it gave back in other areas. And she’s good enough now, and experienced enough, to make those adjustments.
That she already had a Grand Slam title and has been No. 1 helped. No doubt.
Happy moments at the AELTC
A woman from the clay-court nation of Romania starts telling stories about how her mother wanted her to make a Wimbledon final. And then she starts talking about her excitement upon realizing that winning the title makes you an (honorary) member of the All-England Club. And then, she gets to meet the Duchess of Cambridge – her favorite of the duchesses. It was just happy feels all around.
Halep has never been a publicly emotional person in the happy sense of the word. She has shown the world plenty of anger on the tennis court – mostly at herself. And she didn’t shed many tears after that final point, as incredulous as she was about what she’d just done.
But oh, that smile.
As much as it radiated, she warmed the whole place.
The scenes painted a concrete picture of just how this mythical place is in every tennis player’s DNA. Perhaps – above all others – it’s the one they cherish the most if they can win it.
And nothing Williams did, or didn’t do, takes anything away from that.
Note-perfect in defeat
Williams and her marketing team chose this Wimbledon to finally speak out about the nasty situation during last year’s US Open final.
The essay in Harper’s Bazaar is in the August issue, out July 23. It’s online now, nearly 10 months after the incident.
It starts with a false premise: that because Williams wasn’t looking at coach Patrick Mouratoglou, she was unfairly penalized. We heard that on the court last September. But of course, that’s not the rule. The violation is on the coach for coaching, not on the player for looking (or not looking). But you can’t penalize the coach.
It’s not an essay that will make anyone change their minds about the incident. That’s already carved in stone. But perhaps it was cathartic for her to finally put it down in words.
If there’s one message that rang true, it’s how badly she felt that Osaka had been deprived of the joy of her big triumph. And so, despite what Williams might have been feeling inside about how she handled (or failed to handle) the moment Saturday, she seemed determined to be the most gracious runner-up she could be.
Because she’s a pro. And, clearly, she takes lessons from everything that happens to her. They might not be the lessons that some people want her to learn. But she’s a 37-year-old mother, and she’s learning her life lessons her own way.
A well done do-over
There was no way anything was going to occur Saturday that would have tarnished the moment for Halep in any way. Williams was note-perfect: smiling, gracious, complimentary.
She smiled for the photos. And unlike last year, she didn’t disdainfully leave her runner-up plate on her chair as she exited Centre Court (which was actually kind of great, but didn’t go over too well).
She was everything you would want her to be.
But Williams did get an opportunity to further the narrative explored in that essay with the final … question posed to her at the press conference.
Williams hit it out of the park anyway.