Serena Williams remained tantalisingly one short of a record-equalling 24 Grand Slam singles titles as Simona Halep thrashed the off-key American in a one-sided Wimbledon final on Saturday.
An inspired Halep took ruthless advantage of an error-strewn display by seven-times champion Williams to win 6-2 6-2 and become Romania’s first Wimbledon singles champion.
The 27-year-old Halep set the tone by breaking the Williams serve in the opening game and raced into a 4-0 lead in front of 15,000 incredulous fans on Centre Court.
She remained rock solid throughout, making only three unforced errors in a remarkable display of defence mixed with clinical counter-punching. Williams simply could not respond.
Even when Williams fired herself up at the start of the second set and began thumping the ball with her customary power, seventh seed Halep refused to back off.
Halep weathered the squall, then reeled off the last five games of what she described as the match of her life.
Williams, who has now lost three Grand Slam finals since returning to the Tour last March following the birth of daughter Olympia in September 2017, was short of ideas and the match ended after 56 minutes when she biffed a forehand into the net — her 26th unforced error.
Serena Williams doesn’t plan to stop fighting for equality. pic.twitter.com/tjxCD7VofP
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 13, 2019
It was the second shortest final since Martina Navratilova thrashed Andrea Jaeger in 1983, one minute longer than Petra Kvitova’s trouncing of Eugenie Bouchard five years ago.
“She played out of her mind,” Williams, who had won nine of her previous 10 matches against Halep, said on court after picking up the runners-up salver for the second straight year, having ran into a similarly inspired Angelique Kerber last year.
“It was a little bit a deer in headlights for me. Whenever a player plays like that you just have to take your hat off.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 13, 2019
Until Saturday the only other Romanian to reach the Wimbledon final was Ilie Nastase who finished runner-up in 1972 and 1976. Halep went one better as she added the Wimbledon crown to the French Open she won in 2018.
“It’s something very special and I’ll never forget this day. It was my mum’s dream when I was about 10. The day came,” the former world number one Halep said.
“Well I had nerves, my stomach wasn’t well before. But I knew there was no time for emotions.
“I just came out on court to do my best.”
After losing to Kerber here a year ago, then going down to Naomi Osaka in a stormy U.S. Open final, the stage was set for the 37-year-old to finally move level with Australian Margaret Court on the all-time list.
Despite having only five tournaments under her belt this year, Williams, who won her first Wimbledon title in 2002, had looked calm and composed en route to her 11th Wimbledon final.
If she thought she could put down an early marker she was mistaken as three unforced errors in the opening game handed Halep an unexpected gift of an early break.
Halep grew in stature and could not miss. Williams, on the other hand, looked tight and lacked any feel.
There was strong support for Williams, including of the royal variety with friend Meghan Markle joining the Duchess of Cambridge in a crammed Royal Box.
But it was Halep who wowed the fans, haring across the turf to whip a superb backhand on her way to a second break which she sealed with a flashing backhand return winner.
Williams served 45 aces en route to the final but it was Halep who served the first one on Saturday to move 4-0 ahead.
It was 13 minutes before Williams even got the scoreboard ticking. “Wake up Serena” someone yelled as Halep served for the first set at 5-2. It fell on deaf ears as a shanked forehand return ended the set after 26 minutes.
Halep knew there would be a backlash and Williams raised the decibel level at the start of the second set, bent double, fists clenched and bellowing after a volleyed winner.
Williams led 2-1 but Halep’s scampering was making her play an extra shot in every rally, many of which were wild ones.
At 2-2 Halep scooped up a ball she had no right to reach and Williams lurched forward to blaze a backhand long.
The end came quickly. Halep broke again for 5-2 and calmly held to clinch the title.