Serena Williams Reminds the Wimbledon Field That She Is Still a Force

WIMBLEDON, England — On edge in the first two rounds at Wimbledon, Serena Williams was back on target on Saturday in Round 3, beating Julia Görges, 6-3, 6-4.

Williams’s timing was excellent, both from the baseline and in broader terms. Görges could have posed a serious threat if Williams had failed to raise her level.

Saturday’s duel was a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon semifinal, also won by Williams in straight sets. Görges, with a potent first serve and big groundstrokes, has the power tools to excel on grass. But no woman has excelled on grass in the last 20 years more frequently than Williams, who has won seven singles titles at the All England Club.

Winning an eighth would rank as one of her more remarkable achievements based on her age, 37, and her lack of match play in a season full of injuries and frustration.

She is a long way from reacquainting herself with the Venus Rosewater Dish, which is presented to the women’s singles champion. She is a long way from winning her first title since returning from childbirth, which would also be her 24th Grand Slam singles title, tying Margaret Court’s career record.

“It might be her last stand to get the record,” said Rennae Stubbs, an ESPN analyst and former tour player and coach. “I think Wimbledon lends itself to her game more than any other place.”

Her nasty section of the draw — which has been called the quarter of death — became friendlier in a hurry. The former Wimbledon champions Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza were knocked out early. So was the big counterpunching threat Belinda Bencic, beaten by the American Alison Riske in the third round on Saturday.

But Williams’s quarter still contains the new No. 1, Ashleigh Barty, who won her 15th consecutive singles match on Saturday, a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Harriet Dart, an overmatched British wild card.

Next up for Barty on Monday: the unseeded Riske, who is into her first Grand Slam round of 16 in singles at age 29 and is 13-1 on grass courts this season. Barty was in no mood to look ahead to what could be a blockbuster quarterfinal with Williams.

“I will give the athlete’s answer and say I’m just going to worry about Alison first,” Barty said pleasantly but firmly, which seems to be her way. “I know she loves playing on the grass court. She’s going to make me play a million balls. I have to be at my best.”

Barty is 0-2 against Williams, who does not have a losing head-to-head record against any player left in singles.

Before the tournament began Williams was surprised to learn that Barty was the new No. 1, but she has continued to be effusive in praising Barty, which has not always been the Williams way when asked about emerging rivals.

“She has great technique, and I love that,” Williams said. “I’m really a technical player. I like when people have a beautiful game and do the right technique. That’s, like, up my alley. She’s someone in the locker room you always root for. In general, I have been watching her game because I know she’s a force to be reckoned with.”

With her crisp backhand slice and ability to attack the net, Barty could make Williams stretch outside her comfort zone and offer her more looks and tactics than Görges, who opted for strength against strength and lost.

But Williams’s decisive victory Saturday in a season that has been short on such moments still sent a message to the field that she is definitely not to be discounted.

She put 71 percent of her first serves in play — her best percentage of the tournament — and had seven aces. Most important, she did not allow Görges the luxury of a break point, locking down her service games with an attitude that ranged from pensive to ferocious.

“I think I play pretty good when I’m calm but also superintense,” Williams said. “Just finding the balance in between there, it’s a hard balance to find because sometimes when I’m too calm I don’t have the energy.”

Getting the mood right in the second week could be just as important as hitting the shots right in the second week. She found excellent form heading into the finals at Wimbledon and the United States Open last year, only to lose both.

“I thought she lost both finals emotionally last year, because her tennis was good going into both of them,” Stubbs said. “I just hope if she gets into the semis or the final that she’ll be able to breathe through it a bit better and recognize that wanting it so badly is not going to help her in these circumstances. That’s easier said than done because she knows time is running out a little bit.”

Williams, who has struggled to play tournaments and complete matches of late because of a knee problem, has pronounced herself fit for the first time since early March and has backed that up by deciding to play mixed doubles with Andy Murray at Wimbledon.

A few hours after her singles win, she was with Murray on Centre Court — an unusual location for a first-round mixed-doubles match. They defeated Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi, 6-4, 6-1.

What impressed Murray was how much it appeared to matter to Williams.

“After the amount of success that someone like Serena has had for such a long period, to still be out there at 8 o’clock at night having already won the singles, and being competitive, that’s impressive,” he said. “I don’t think people always appreciate how difficult that is to do.”

The last time she did double duty at a Grand Slam tournament — playing with her sister Venus Williams at the 2018 French Open — she ended up straining a pectoral muscle during a doubles match and withdrawing from the singles, where she had reached the fourth round.

But she and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, are convinced she needs the matches this time. She has played only 15 singles matches this year (Barty has played 44). Asked if she was worried that she might get worn down if she had success in singles and doubles, she said, “No, I’ll be fine.”

There were still traces of rust on Saturday: misjudged groundstrokes and mistimed returns off second serves against Görges that looked ready to be punished.

But she was more impressive on the move than in some of her recent matches, and the statistics sheet that Williams brought with her to the postmatch news conference was full of encouragement, including a positive ratio of winners (27) to unforced errors (23). She was particularly effective with her forehand on Saturday, both at full power and, more subtly, with the rolling off-speed crosscourt shot that surprised Görges, the No. 18 seed, again and again.

“I just need to keep it up,” said Williams, who is seeded No. 11 this year. “Each match for me really counts. I haven’t had a tremendous amount.”

Her next match will be in the fourth round on Monday against 30th-seeded Carla Suárez Navarro, a Spanish veteran typically better on higher bouncing surfaces than grass.

Williams has overwhelmed Suárez six times in six matches and beat her, 6-0, 6-0, on a windy day in the quarterfinals of the 2013 United States Open.

A player never forgets a defeat like that, all the more so because it came on Suárez’s 25th birthday.

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