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Serena Williams equals Steffi Graf’s record, lifts 22nd Grand Slam title


 Serena Williams’ chase for Grand Slam singles title No. 22 is finally over. After coming up short in three consecutive majors, Williams tied Steffi Graf’s mark with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Angelique Kerber in Saturday’s Wimbledon final.

“Definitely had some sleepless nights, if I’m just honest, with a lot of stuff,” Williams said. “My goal is to win always at least a Slam a year. It was getting down to the pressure.”

She pulled even with Steffi Graf for the most major championships in the Open era, which began in 1968. Now Williams stands behind only Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24.

This was Williams’ seventh singles trophy at the All England Club — only Martina Navratilova, with nine, has more in the Open era — and second in a row. The victory at Wimbledon a year ago raised her Grand Slam count to 21, where it remained until Saturday.

“It’s been incredibly difficult not to think about it. I had a couple of tries this year,” Williams said during the trophy ceremony. “But it makes the victory even sweeter to know how hard I worked for it.”

There was a stunning loss to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semi-finals in September, ending Williams’ bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam. “Time heals,” said Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “By losing, you realize things.”

In the rematch against the fourth-seeded Kerber — the first time in a decade two women met to decide multiple major titles in a single season — the No. 1-ranked Williams came through. This goes alongside six championships at the U.S. Open, six at the Australian Open and three at the French Open.The 34-year-old American did it with nearly impeccable serving. She slammed 13 aces. She won 38 of 43 first-serve points. She faced just one break point — at 3-all in the second set, representing Kerber’s only real opening — and shut the door emphatically with aces at 117 mph and 124 mph.

There was more that Williams did well. Facing the left-handed Kerber’s reactive, counter-punching style, Williams dictated exchanges and compiled a 39-12 edge in winners.

Williams hammered second serves that floated in at 75 mph, breaking once in each set. She volleyed well, too, winning the point on 16 of 22 trips to the net, including a tap-in on match point. Soon, she was wrapping Kerber in a warm embrace, and then holding up those fingers to symbolize “22.”

“I was trying everything, but she deserved it today. She really played an unbelievable match,” said Kerber, who hadn’t appeared in a major final until beating Williams in Melbourne. “I think we both (played) on a really high level.”

It was breezy, but that didn’t seem to hamper Williams, whose older sister Venus sat in her guest box, a couple of seats over from Beyonce and Jay Z.

Kerber, a German who knows Graf well, defeated Venus in the semifinals and hadn’t dropped a set until Saturday. But she could not keep up with the trophy on the line, although it was a high-quality final that was tighter than the scoreline might indicate.

“Played a good match,” Kerber said. “That makes it a little easier for me.”

Later Saturday, Williams had a chance to head home with a second piece of hardware: She and Venus were scheduled to play in the women’s doubles final, with a chance to win their 14th Grand Slam doubles title together.

In singles, Williams got better as the tournament went along; taking the last 12 sets she played after dropping a tiebreaker to open her second-round match against Christina McHale. After that set, Williams smashed her racket and flung it away, drawing a $10,000 fine.

There had been some thought that Williams was really stung by her loss to Vinci in New York, that it was too big a disappointment to push aside and lingered, somehow, when she followed with the setbacks against Kerber and Muguruza.

“If anything, I was able to show resilience that, no, that’s not going to shake me, you’re not going to break me,” Williams said, “it’s going to make me stronger.”

So, Williams was asked Saturday, is she already thinking about No. 25, to surpass Court?

“Oh, God, no,” Williams said. “One thing I learned about last year is to enjoy the moment. I’m definitely going to enjoy this.”

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