LONDON – Before looking ahead to the Wimbledon final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber on Saturday, take a moment to look back at the American's second-round match last week.
After dropping the opening set against Christina McHale in a ragged tiebreaker, Williams plopped herself in her sideline chair and proceeded to smack her racket repeatedly against the grass, before flinging the equipment so far behind her that it landed in the lap of a TV cameraman.
That display earned six-time Wimbledon champion Williams a $10,000 fine. And, more importantly, she has won all 10 sets she's played since.
"Sometimes when I release that energy, I get kind of calm," Williams said. "I just sometimes feel like maybe I need to release."
So maybe there was something to the theory, espoused by some, that Williams has been having so much trouble winning her 22nd Grand Slam title because she cared too much about tying Steffi Graf's Open-era record.
Listen to the way Williams described the state of her game heading into Saturday's final:
"I feel good. I felt great in other tournaments, as well. But I feel a little different," Williams said. "I just feel more relaxed and more at peace than I may have been in the past."
A few minutes later, she was asked to elaborate on what, exactly, she meant.
"Well, you know, just sometimes, when you are fighting, sometimes you want something so bad, it can hinder you a little bit," Williams explained. "Now I'm just a little bit more calm."
The No. 1 player in the WTA rankings insisted, meanwhile, that her so-close-yet-so-far pursuit of Graf has not been weighing on her.
"My goal has never been 22," Williams said after her 48-minute workout of a 6-2, 6-0 semifinal victory over Elena Vesnina on Thursday. "I don't talk about that anymore."
Since winning Wimbledon a year ago for her fourth consecutive Grand Slam title and 21st of her career, Williams' count has stalled.
She lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals, to Kerber in the Australian Open final, and to Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final.
That meeting on a hard court at Melbourne in January was the first major title match for Kerber, a 28-year-old from Germany who considers Graf an idol and has received advice from her.
Speaking about Kerber's play in the three-set Australian Open final, Williams said: "She came out swinging, ready to win. She was fearless. That's something I learned. When I go into a final, I, too, need to be fearless like she was."
The No. 4-seeded Kerber's left-handed, counter-punching game — watch during baseline exchanges as she bends so low that a knee touches the ground — gave Williams trouble that day. It's also created problems for every opponent this fortnight: Kerber has won all 12 sets she's played so far, including during a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Williams' older sister Venus in the semifinals.
Might Venus offer Serena any advice about how to beat Kerber?
"I'll give her a few pointers," Venus said. "For the most part, she's got to go out there and play the match she wants to play, not that I want her to play."
Williams-Kerber II represents the first time in a decade that two women play each other in a pair of Grand Slam finals in the same season: Amelie Mauresmo defeated Justine Henin for the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2006.
Can Kerber go 2-for-2 against Williams?
"I will just try to (go) out there like in Australia," Kerber said, "trying to show her, 'OK, I'm here to win the match, as well.' I know that I have to play my best tennis to beat her in the final."
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