Centre Court is often described as the jewel in Wimbledon’s crown and it is certainly a treasure dear to the heart of four-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. But while the American may be 30 years old, she is in no apparent hurry to settle down with a gemstone of the engagement variety. Her passion, for the time being at least, lies solely with the game. ''Maybe I don't belong in a relationship. Maybe I don't belong somewhere else. But I know for a fact I do belong on this tennis court,”’ she says. Not many can argue with that.
When the American strolls out onto Centre Court for her showdown with third seed Agnieszka Radwanska on Saturday she will be making her seventh appearance in the final since 2002 – an incredible achievement for someone who was absent from the game for almost a year due to a run of bad luck that saw her slice open her foot on a broken beer glass in Munich and hospitalised eight months later when doctors removed a life-threatening blood clot from her lung.
Twelve months since the start of her comeback, which began at Eastbourne last year and saw her reach the final of the US Open just three months later, Serena finds herself in familiar SW19 trophy hunting territory - let’s not forget the four Wimbledon ladies doubles titles she collected with sister Venus or the 1998 mixed doubles title she picked off with Max Mirnyi.
In so doing, she becomes the first 30-year-old to appear in a Wimbledon final since Steffi Graf in 1999, while a triumph tomorrow would make her the first 30-something winner since Martina Navratilova won in 1990 at the age of 33.
Of course, it doesn’t matter a jot that she is in her fourth decade. She still continues to break records. Not content with serving a Wimbledon and personal 23 ace best against Zheng Jie in the third round, she went on to thunder down a further 24 in her semi-final against Victoria Azarenka – a fact that prompted three-time Wimbledon champion Chris Evert to liken her impressive service precision and power to that of a man.
“The older I get, the better I serve, I feel, and the more I like to hit aces,” says Serena. “But in my whole career I've hit a lot of aces throughout the tournaments and stuff. I don't know how it got better... It's not like I go home and I work on baskets and baskets of serves. Maybe it's a natural shot for me.”
It’s certainly seems so. In total Serena has hammered down 85 aces over the past two weeks and will be calling on that particular weapon, one she describes as ''mean’', during the one remaining match that stands between her and a 14thGrand Slam title. And hunger for victory is as intense as ever. “It's really kind of cool to have trophies in your house that are so meaningful, that you grow up dreaming about it but never really knowing you can make it.”
A victory in the final would see her match her Australian Open record and equal older sister Venus’s tally of five Wimbledon singles wins. It would also place her two Championships titles behind Graf and four behind Navratilova.
Yes Radwanska is seeded three, but she has every reason to be quaking in her tennis shoes. Appearing in her maiden Grand Slam final, the Pole will face a woman she has twice failed to beat - their last meeting here in 2008 at the quarter-final stage. In both matches Aga could only scrape four games.
Even so, Serena outwardly refuses to believe that she is the overwhelming favourite for the title. “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. She deserves to be. You know, I have to go out there and fight for this. This is by no means going to be easy. Never, ever do I underestimate any opponent. She's out there to try to do her best.”
But this is Serena Williams, a fierce competitor who has won 13 out of 17 Grand Slam finals; a woman who is determined to be reunited with the golden dish because it “means a lot” to her. “I don't play unless I feel like I can win. That's why I play tennis. I'm not playing to come in last place.”
At 30 years of age experience is also on her side. So does she feel like an old timer? “No. I feel really good and healthy and great. Like I said the other day, mentally I'm 12. Hopefully I can grow up.”
Perhaps a fifth Wimbledon crown will be the answer?
Serena: tournament stats
Aces / Double Faults
First serves in
First / second serve points won
Service games won
Fastest serve / average first serve speed
Returns in play
Break points won
FH winners / BH winners / overall winners
Total net points won
Total court time
Serena: road to the final
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova
6-7(5), 6-2, 9-7
6-1, 2-6, 7-5