WIMBLEDON, England — Simona Halep needed less than an hour to stun Serena Williams — and maybe the entire tennis world — while winning the Wimbledon women’s final, 6-2, 6-2, Saturday on Centre Court.
What happened? “I don’t know,” Williams said. “She just played great. I don’t think it’s a surprise for anyone to play great against me.”
Maybe not now. Williams is 37 and has given birth to a daughter. But it would have been a surprise not long ago when she was dominating women’s tennis.
Williams again was rebuffed in her attempt to tie the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam victories by Margaret Court. She previously had a 9-1 record against Halep, including a victory at the Australian Open in January.
“Today, nothing really helped,” she conceded after looking as inept as others used to look against her.
Halep, a clay court specialist who had been past the quarterfinals only once in eight previous Wimbledons, took it to Williams, breaking her once-conquering serve twice in each set and completing the match in 56 minutes.
This was the third straight losing final for Williams, who was beaten by Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon in 2018 and by Naomi Osaka in a controversial U.S. Open final last September.
But Williams didn’t as much lose Saturday’s final as Halep, a 5-6 package of consistency and power from Romania, won it. With the low, accurate shots she has developed, Halep kept Williams both bewildered and off-balance.
Though three inches shorter than Williams, Halep hit the bigger serves, made the better returns.
“I’m very sure,” she said, “that was the best match of my life.”
Halep made only three unforced errors the entire match compared to 26 for Williams, who seemed to give up after being broken twice in the second set.
“She’s lost a lot of her spirit,” two-time U.S. Open champion Tracy Austin said on the BBC.
John McEnroe described the situation as “unbelievable.” McEnroe often has called Williams the finest women’s player ever.
During the break between the first and second sets, with the crowd murmuring, a man’s voice shouted, “Serena, wake up!”
Williams, whose older sister Venus was in attendance, properly gave credit to Halep, who last year won the French Open and at the start of this year was No. 1 in the WTA rankings.
“She was getting so many balls back,” Williams said. “I do have a strategy for players that do get a lot of balls back, which I thought about too late. I think I was over-hitting it, trying to go for too much. She was getting a tremendous amount of balls back.”
Halep is 27, 10 years younger than Williams. Whether age was a factor didn’t come up in the questions. Tactics did, but Williams insisted that altering her game plan would not have made much difference.
“I don’t know if there’s anything I could have done differently. I think I gave it a great effort for the fortnight,” Williams said. “Again, I just think Simona played her heart out. If anything, I could try to be like that.”
Halep is the first person from Romania, male or female, to win Wimbledon. She prepared for the final by focusing on herself, not the person across the net.
“I’ve always been intimidated a little bit when I faced Serena,” she said. “She’s an inspiration for everyone and the model for everyone.”
Halep had to grow as a player, adapting to grass courts.
“I never thought — I’m very honest — I’m able to win on grass with all these good players who are very tall and serving with a lot of power,’’ she said. “
But this year, every day I started to feel the game more and more. I started to feel safe on court, which helped me believe.”
Williams is the type of player whom Halep feared. She had won Wimbledon seven times. Now others will fear Halep.
“I’m going to have to figure out a way to win a final,” Williams said. “Maybe playing in other finals outside the Grand Slams would be really helpful so I can get in the groove.”
Serena Williams has lost the last three times she's made the finals of a Grand Slam event:
2019 Wimbledon_lost to Simona Halep, 6-2, 6-2.
2018 U.S. Open_lost to Naomi Osaka, 6-2, 6-4.
2018 Wimbledon_lost to Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-3.