As if she wasn't a clear enough favourite already to win her fifth Wimbledon Ladies' Singles title today at The Championships 2012, Serena Williams was offered an additional boost when her opponent, Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, revealed yesterday that she has picked up an upper respiratory illness, which she blamed on the rain and cold winds of the British summer, and which forced her withdrawal from the doubles competition.
So Serena is an 8/1 on choice with the bookmakers to continue the Williams family's domination of the Ladies' event at Wimbledon in the 21st century. Her older sister Venus has captured the appropriately-named (in her case) Venus Rosewater Dish on five occasions and Serena will be confident of matching that if she can emphasise what she has been doing well in these Championships, which is serving aces, and minimise some of the extravagant errors which have crept into her game, particularly since she came back just over a year ago from a combination of serious injury and grave illness. To have got this far on Wimbledon's lawns once more is indeed a tribute to one whose career could so easily have been over.
Recalling those fraught days, she said, "It wasn't that I was scared. I wasn't even thinking about tennis. I just wanted to make it through everything that I was going through and become a survivor. I've been through so much in the past year or two it's been unbelievable."
Serena has walloped 85 aces and lost just six of her 72 service games en route to this afternoon's big occasion, which carries a first prize of £1,150,000. Wimbledon has always stood at the peak of her ambitions in a career which has brought 41 tournament singles victories, 13 of them in Grand Slams, and unlike so many tennis professionals she has also been deeply involved in doubles, usually in harness with Venus, accumulating 12 more Grand Slam titles among her 20 doubles successes.
An interesting trivia statistic which might feature large in future pub quizzes is that both today's finalists are part of successful sister acts on the WTA, since Agnieszka's sibling Urszula is also a former Wimbledon junior champion. Agnieszka triumphed in 2005 and Urszula in 2007.
Agnieszka will be hoping her nose and throat have cleared by this afternoon's start time, since there is so much at stake for her. This is her first Grand Slam singles final and, should she defy the betting odds and pull off a victory, she would become the first Polish world No.1.
"Everyone dreams when they are a kid about becoming No.1," she said yesterday. "So I'm very happy to have a chance to play for the top ranking. This is the best two weeks of my career, playing my first Grand Slam final and achieving a career-high ranking no matter what the outcome of the final is. But there is still one very tough match to go."
Radwanska never spoke a truer sentence than that last one. She has spent less time on court reaching the final (eight hours 37 minutes) than Serena (nine hours 43 minutes), conceded only one set while Serena has dropped two, and been involved in 117 games in her six victories, compared to Serena's 142 games.
But then it is necessary to add to the scales the sheer weight of the younger Williams’s achievements and her experience of the peak moments at the world's premier tennis tournament. She knows what it feels like to hoist that Dish on high and that is a big plus for her.
"Oh my gosh, it would mean a lot to me to get there again," said Serena. "But I have to go out there and win. Agnieszka has had a better year than I have. She's been way more consistent than me. She's done really well, so she's ranked higher than me [No.3 as opposed to No.6] and she deserves to be. This is by no means going to be easy. Never, ever, do I underestimate any opponent."
If, as expected, she wins that fifth Wimbledon, Serena would be the first woman aged 30 or over to capture the Ladies' Singles Championship since Martina Navratilova in 1990. But there is no need to send for the Zimmer frame just yet. "I feel really good and healthy and great," she said. And that could be ominous news for Radwanska and her dreams of becoming Poland's most famous athlete.