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Serena Williams puts pressure behind her, finally collects her 22nd Grand Slam championship

US player Serena Williams poses with the winner's

US player Serena Williams poses with the winner's trophy after winning the 2016 Wimbledon Championship. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / LEON NEAL

WIMBLEDON, England — The opponent had been herself as much as the women on the other side of the net. Serena Williams finally confessed that she had been vexed as much by expectations, by pressure, by the attempt to win that magical 22nd Grand Slam title, as by anyone else’s serve or forehand.

Her actions said as much. When Williams beat stubborn Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3, on Saturday — to catch 22 and Steffi Graf for her seventh Wimbledon title, ending a streak of three consecutive Slams without a championship — she flopped unhesitatingly on her back atop the grass of Centre Court.

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

She won the first three last year and was all but expected to take the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows and become the first person since Graf in 1988 to take the true Grand Slam, the four majors in a calendar year. But in that semifinal, no less, she fell victim to the stress as well as to 30th-ranked Roberta Vinci.

After that, Williams was beaten by Kerber in the Australian Open final in January and by Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final in June. The quest to get to that 22nd Slam victory, to equal Graf as No. 2 on the all-time list behind Margaret Court’s 24, was stalled — and in her lack of candor, Williams was stalling.

No, she has contended, she wasn’t thinking about 22, although it turns out she was.

“I just felt a lot of pressure, I guess,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. Obviously had some tough losses. But you know if you look at the big picture, I was just thinking about getting to three Grand Slam finals. I had to start looking at positives, not focusing on that one loss per tournament, which really isn’t bad. I realized that’s pretty good. Then I started playing better.”

Both the top-seeded Williams and the fourth-seeded Kerber played beautifully in the 1-hour, 21-minute final. Each held serve the first 11 games before Williams broke the lefthander in the 12th. In the second set, tied at three games apiece, Williams, 34, faced a break point. Then, wham, wham, she had two of her 13 aces back-to-back.

“At the end, I was trying everything,” a gracious Kerber said, “but she deserved it today. She really played an unbelievable match. I think we both play at a high level.”

Kerber, 28, had not lost a set in any of her previous six matches at this Wimbledon, including a semifinal win Thursday over Serena’s older sister, Venus. But on Saturday, Kerber didn’t win one.

“I was not the one who lost the match,” Kerber said of the final. “I think she won the match. She did everything right.”

Probably because she didn’t worry about doing anything wrong.

When reminded the talk now will be about equaling or surpassing Court’s 24 major wins, Williams shook her head. “No,” she warned, “not for me. I learned a lot about 22.”

She stopped and smiled, a veteran of this battle.

“I learned not to get involved in those debates and conversations,’’ she said. “I just learned to just play tennis. It’s what I do best.”

As she showed in catching 22 at last.

WIMBLEDON, England — The opponent had been herself as much as the woman on the other side of the net. Serena Williams finally confessed that she had been vexed as much by expectations, by pressure, by the attempt to win that magical 22nd Grand Slam title as by anyone else’s serve or forehand.

Her actions said as much. When Williams beat stubborn Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3, on Saturday to catch 22 and Steffi Graf; to win her seventh Wimbledon; to end a streak of three consecutive Slams without a championship, she flopped unhesitatingly on her back atop the grass of Centre Court.

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

She had won three in a row last year, of course, was all but certain then to take the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows and become the first person since Graf in 1988 to take the true Grand Slam, the four majors in a calendar year. Then in the semifinal no less she fell victim to the stress as well as to a 30th-ranked lady named Roberta Vinci.

After that Williams was beaten by Kerber in the Australian Open final in January and by Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final in June. The quest to get to that 22nd Slam victory, to equal Graf as No. 2 on that all-time list behind Margaret Court’s 24, was stalled and in her lack of candor Williams was stalling. No, she contended, she wasn’t thinking about 22, although it turns out she was.

“I just felt a lot of pressure, I guess,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. Obviously had some tough losses. But you know if you look at the big picture, I was just thinking about getting to three Grand Slam finals. I had to start looking at positives, not focusing on that one loss per tournament, which really isn’t bad. I realized that’s pretty good. Then I started playing better.”

Both Williams, the No. 1 seed, and Kerber, No. 4, played beautifully in 1-hour, 21-minute final. Each held serve the first 11 games, then Williams broke the lefthander in the 12th. In the second set, the 34-year-old Williams fell behind at 3-3 in the second set, facing a break point. Then, wham, wham, Serena had two of her 13 aces back-to-back.

“At the end, I was trying everything,” said a gracious Kerber, “but she deserved it today. She really played an unbelievable match. I think we both play at a high level.”

Kerber, 28, had not lost a set in any of her previous six matches this Wimbledon including a semifinal win Thursday over Serena’s older sister, Venus. Saturday Kerber didn’t win one.

“I was not the one who lose the match,” said a candid Kerber of the final.”I think she won the match. She did everything right.”

Probably because she didn’t worry about doing anything wrong.

When reminded the talk now will be about equaling or surpassing Court’s 24, Williams shook her head. “No,” she warned, “not for me. I learned a lot about 22.”

She stopped and smiled, a veteran of this battle.

“I learned not to get involved in those debates and conversations. I just learned to just play tennis. It’s what I do best.”

As finally she showed once again in catching 22 at last.

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