Another great champion who has been gracing these grounds for 14 years, she rarely draws anything more than polite applause.
Is it the four Wimbledon finals that Serena played against her sister Venus that count against her? Or is it the fact that, as a woman who came “Straight Outta Compton” (as the classic rap album has it), she does not square with the expectations of the refined Wimbledon crowd? For all the appeal of grass-court tennis, the fans it attracts are not the most multi-cultural group on earth.
Williams – who faces a semi-final match-up against Victoria Azarenka on Thursday afternoon – deserves better. We may take her for granted, but hers is one of the most remarkable stories in sport. That of a mould-breaking talent who invented herself on the rutted, weed-strewn courts of a Los Angeles ghetto, and went on to beat the world.
Williams confounded all predictions – except those of her single-minded father Richard – by growing up into a global phenomenon. And yet, despite all the Hollywood trappings and the society weddings, she still keeps it real on the practice court. She has overcome further extraordinary obstacles over the last 18 months, obstacles that would have defeated most ordinary mortals, including multiple operations on her foot and a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Williams has fought her way back and is still determined to add to her tally of 13 grand slam titles — five of which came here at Wimbledon.
“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,” she said on Tuesday, after a straight-sets win over defending champion Petra Kvitova.
Perhaps Williams has not been quite the player she was before the injury. Or perhaps the women’s game has moved on. Either way, she has failed to add any major silverware to that cabinet in four attempts.
Yet Wimbledon still represents her best chance, because the grass courts reward her peerless serve. And if she can get past Azarenka – a woman she has beaten on their last five meetings – she will face a newbie on the big stage: either Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, or Angelique Kerber, of Germany.
Williams was erratic in the early stages of this tournament, allowing Jie Zheng to force her to 9-7 in the decider, and then battling through another long one against Yaroslava Shvedova. But she came good when she needed to against Kvitova. “You can’t play a defending Wimbledon champion or grand slam champion and not elevate your game,” she said afterwards. “I had to weed out the riffraff and just get serious.”
Williams needed treatment on an ankle problem during her doubles match with sister Serena on Wednesday, but if she gets serious in her semi-final, you fear for Azarenka.
And it would be even more of an ask for Radwanska or Kerber to take on the lioness of the women’s tour in the final. Centre Court, on the final Saturday of Wimbledon: it is a time and a place that she knows so well.
The other semi-final should present a contrast of styles, because Kerber is a left-handed thumper, while Radwanska is the queen of subtlety, a Martina Hingis disciple who lacks power but makes up for it with the ingenuity of her angles.
Will it be one of the unheralded pair who runs off with this title? That would continue the pattern of six different grand slam champions in the last six events, dating back to Kim Clijsters’ win in Australia 18 months ago.
Mind you, so would a Williams triumph, given that her own last grand slam title came at the 2010 French Open. You fancy that she will go on to weed out the riffraff in her own muscular and uncompromising style.
By Simon Briggs.