WIMBLEDON — When Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber meet Saturday on Centre Court, Williams will be looking to catch history.
Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam championships seemed like a mark no woman would be able to match in the Open era. But here we are.
If Williams, seeded No. 25 and only 10 months removed from the complicated delivery of her daughter, Olympia, can win this Wimbledon title, she will have tied Court’s once-distant record.
“This shows how much she still wants it, which I love,” tennis legend Billie Jean King said. “I hope she gets the record. I hope she beats Margaret’s record.”
Having such a sought-after milestone at hand might seem a little jarring for Williams, who is only four tournaments into her comeback. She has preferred not to think about history too much so soon.
“I put so much pressure on myself when I was trying to get to 18 [Grand Slam titles], then the rest, it was so much,” Williams said. “But as I said in the past couple years, I don’t want to limit myself.”
She has beaten Kerber here before, most recently for the 2016 title (her seventh at Wimbledon), although Kerber got the better of Williams earlier that year in the Australian Open final. Williams owns a 6-2 edge in their career meetings.
With so many of the top seeds ousted early, Kerber is the best returner Williams has faced in the draw.
The seventh-ranked German won the U.S. Open in 2016 but struggled to remain at that level last year. She will have to play her best to beat Williams.
“I see a champion, that’s for sure,” Kerber said. “I mean, Serena is one of the best players in the world. I mean, we had so many great matches in the last years. To see her back, it’s great. Yeah, I know that she is always pushing you to the limits to play your best tennis.”
After entering the tournament at No. 181 in the world, Williams will return to the top 30 with a loss and the top 15 with a win.
“It’s great for tennis, I’ll tell you that,” former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said of Williams’ quick return to form. “It’s amazing, and it doesn’t surprise me.”
Those around Williams, such as her agent, Jill Smoller, have seen the toll taken in the last year as well as the moments of triumph. When you put it all together, Williams is playing for more than just herself — something you can see in the faces of the Wimbledon crowd.
Sondra Foy and Cecelia Brock traveled to their first Wimbledon from High Point, North Carolina, and Dallas, respectively, just to see Williams play. After her semifinal win, they staked out a player entrance to catch a glimpse of her.
“This is a bucket list trip for us,” Brock said. “So if she won, this it would be the cherry on top.”
By being so upfront about her challenges, Williams has connected with fans such as Foy and Brock. Smoller says she’s seen that throughout her client’s career, and now.
“You have icon, absolutely inarguably or arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time: male, female, black, white,” Smoller said. “You have businesswoman. You have philanthropist. You have wife. You have a mother. You have someone who is at the forefront on racism, female empowerment, the gender pay gap. There are about four or five verticals, or six verticals that she’s at the forefront of, like it or not.”
On Saturday, Williams will be playing for history, in more ways than one.