Serena Williams will need to deal with “pressure times 100” when she faces Simona Halep in Saturday’s Wimbledon final seeking to equal the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles.
This is the challenge that got her back out on to the court after almost dying giving birth and the one that keeps her motivated at the age of 37.
“Serena has already beaten a lot of records but this is the ultimate one,” coach Patrick Mouratoglou told the BBC.
The final starts at 14:00 BST.
Australian Margaret Court set her record for singles titles between 1960 and 1973 – at a time that spanned the amateur and Open era.
Williams already holds the record for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era with 23 but it is not enough for her.
Standing in her way is 27-year-old Romanian former world number one Halep, who says she has a new-found love of grass courts and a belief she can beat anyone and win a second Grand Slam title.
Serena ‘calm’ in chasing record
Williams has been stuck on 23 Grand Slam titles since winning the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant.
Since coming back from maternity leave in March 2018, she reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals last year.
In the defeat by Angelique Kerber here 12 months ago, her lack of mobility around the court was exploited, while against Naomi Osaka in New York the American lost her cool in dramatic scenes.
Here she has been calm and happy, which Mouratoglou says makes her “much more dangerous”.
“I definitely feel like I play better when I’m calm,” Williams said. “But it’s definitely an effort. Not getting over-pumped, but at the same time not getting under-wound. I have to be in that right space.”
Mouratoglou said that despite Williams claiming she was not thinking too much about the record, it was something they would be focussing on before the final.
“To possibly break a record and make history, the pressure is times 100,” he said. “If you try to put it aside it will come back and hit you stronger so you have to accept it, deal with it and talk about it. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Serena’s ‘weapon of mass destruction’
Williams came into the tournament after an injury-hit year, where she she was forced to withdraw from three tournaments in a row.
But here she has looked strong and says she has even been helped by playing mixed doubles with Britain’s Andy Murray and getting more match time and volleying practice.
She has dominated with her serve – having notched 45 aces so far – and her percentage of first-serve points won reached almost 90% in her semi-final win over Barbora Strycova.
“You can’t get to the big points because Serena is always ahead. It’s the weapon of mass destruction I call it – the Serena serve,” nine-time Wimbledon singles champion Martina Navratilova said.
How can Halep stop her?
This will be the 11th meeting between Halep and Williams, with the American having won nine of their previous encounters.
But the Romanian says that over the years she has learned that she will have her chances, and plans to take them.
“Of course, I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing, but now I feel stronger mentally facing her,” the seventh seed said.
“I think it’s a great feeling to face Serena in a Grand Slam final. If you are able to win, it makes it sweeter.”
Former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, who beat then defending champion Williams in the fourth round in 2011, said the best way to beat the American was to try to keep the rallies going as long as possible and hope she tires.
Before her semi-final victory over Barbora Strycova, Williams had completed 75% of her points within four strokes.
“The biggest chance is to extend the rally and, if you get a shorter ball try and attack it,” Frenchwoman Bartoli told BBC television.
“Serena has to be fatigued to take some of the sting out of her serve.”
“You have to try and hold your ground but it is so difficult. You feel like you are moving backwards because the ball is coming at you so hard.”
Halep has her own point to prove
While Williams is chasing a place in the history books, Halep has her own points to prove.
She finally silenced the ‘she’s number one, when will she win a Grand Slam?’ questions last year when she won her maiden major at the French Open, which came after three final defeats and with a reputation as a choker.
But since then she has lost the number one ranking and not come close to another Grand Slam title, falling in the third round at last year’s Wimbledon and being stunned in the first round defeat of the US Open.
Her Roland Garros title defence ended with a straight-set defeat by unseeded American teenager Amanda Anisimova.
“She finished the year number one twice in a row. I feel like she’s back. She wants to prove that she can do it again,” Williams said.
“You can’t underestimate her. She’s like a little powerhouse.”
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