Tennis: 'Serena I know was back': Williams gets to 22 at Wimbledon

AP , Sunday 10 Jul 2016

USA's Serena Williams celebrates winning her womens singles final match against Germany's Angelique Kerber with the trophy (Reuters)

To hear Serena Williams and her coach tell it, the process of getting her ready to win Wimbledon for a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title began with a series of chats over the phone not long after her loss in the French Open final.

That setback in Paris marked the third consecutive major tournament that Williams left without the trophy, which to any other tennis player would not be a big deal but to the 34-year-old American represented a real drought.

So she and Patrick Mouratoglou touched base repeatedly to hash it all out.

''I was just talking through things, and how I was disappointed that I lost the French, and what I needed to do, to do better at Wimbledon. We were strategizing a lot,'' Williams told a small group of reporters in her last of many interviews Saturday night, about 7 hours after beating Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 for the championship at the All England Club.

''It wasn't one conversation,'' Williams said. ''We talked for at least five - so many times. Almost every day. Just to try to feel what I needed to do and what was going to be done.''

At some point during that period, Williams sent a text message to Mouratoglou that he found full of meaning.

''He said he recognized that I was different and I was back to who I am, usually,'' Williams said. ''And I was like, 'What does that mean?' He just said that he felt I was different when I sent that text. He was very encouraged by it, and we were able to build on it.''

Recalled Mouratoglou on Saturday: ''I felt like the Serena I know was back. ... Back to thinking the way she thinks.''

That was important, he knew, because it wasn't as if she had forgotten how to play, of course, or allowed her skills to erode, even if she already was the oldest woman to be ranked No. 1 and the oldest to win a major title.

He realized he hadn't quite seen the same person ever since Williams' bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015 ended with a loss to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals, one of the biggest surprises in tennis history.

After that came defeats for Williams in two Grand Slam finals, against Kerber at the Australian Open, then against Garbine Muguruza at Roland Garros.

Thinking back to what happened in New York, Mouratoglou said: ''Either she or I - we both - didn't know she was that hurt. I think it took a lot of time. She was not herself.''

During the past two weeks at Wimbledon, Williams certainly did appear to be back to possessing the confident, all-powerful presence the world is accustomed to seeing and hearing - on and off the court.

''One day, I woke up and I just felt different,'' Williams said, referring to those days after the French Open. ''I felt like: I can do better. I can do this. Not only can I do this, I'm going to do this, and there's nothing in this world that's going to stop me.''

That was evident in her play, to be sure, particularly in that spectacular serve, which produced 13 aces at up to a tournament-leading 124 mph against Kerber.

And it was evident in her words, most succinctly when a reporter asked after the semifinals what Williams makes of it when others refer to her as one of history's greatest female athletes.

She replied: ''I prefer the word, one of the greatest 'athletes' of all time.''

Well put.

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