By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Mixed doubles with Andy Murray was fun but Serena Williams got back to the serious business as she powered into her 11th Wimbledon final by overwhelming unseeded Czech Barbora Strycova in a brutal 6-1 6-2 victory on Centre Court on Thursday.
Clobbering huge serves and forehands, the veteran American was always in control as she set up a showdown with Romanian former world number one Simona Halep in Saturday’s final.
The 37-year-old will become the oldest woman to contest a Grand Slam final in the professional era and will have another chance to equal Margaret Court’s record 24 singles majors, having lost in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals last year.
“It’s good, especially after my year. It definitely feels good to be back in the final,” Williams, who has played sparingly this year because knee problems, said.
“It’s definitely a lot better, I just needed some matches. I know I’m improving and I just needed to feel good and then I can do what I do best which is play tennis.”
Strycova, the oldest first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist at 33, boasts a tricky game that scrambled the mind of Britain’s Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals.
But seven-times Wimbledon champion Williams, still seeking her first title since becoming a mother in 2017, is made of much sterner stuff and simply bulldozed her way through her opponent’s lightweight resistance.
Strycova held for 1-1 in the first set but any notion that a contest would break out disappeared in the blink of an eye as she was overwhelmed by the Williams power to trail 5-1.
She had a chance to slow the Williams advance when she got to 0-40 on the 11th seed’s serve with the help of a netcord but Williams raised the tempo to reel off five points, ending the first set in 27 minutes with a booming ace.
Strycova bashed down an ace of her own as she held serve at the start of the second set and held firm until 2-2.
It was only a temporary lull in the onslaught.
Williams was prowling like a hungry tiger and piled on the pressure in Strycova’s next service game.
Having just watched a forehand winner whistle past her, Strycova double-faulted and fluffed an attempted drop shot to hand over the break of serve.
The end came quickly. Eyes narrowing on the target, Williams made it 4-2 with a love service game and broke again for a 5-2 lead — Strycova emitting a piercing scream as she wafted a straightforward volley into the tramlines.
The crowd were willing Strycova to hang in for a little longer and roared their approval when she showed great defensive skills to win the first point as Williams served for the match — the 54th-ranked Czech raising her arms in salute.
But Williams, who delighted home fans by partnering Murray in the mixed here, was in no mood for nonsense.
She fired down a huge serve on match point and when Strycova clawed it back she stroked away the simplest of forehands to seal her place in the final.
After tricky moments during the fortnight — dropping sets against qualifier Kaja Juvan in round two and compatriot Alison Riske in the quarter-finals, Williams is in the groove as her biggest test looms.
“I love what I do, I wake up every morning and I get to be fit and play sport and play in front of crowds like here at Wimbledon — not everyone can do that,” she said.
“I love what I do, I’m still pretty good at what I do and it’s always an amazing experience.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)