Serena Williams has taken another giant stride towards sporting immortality with a watershed Wimbledon final triumph over Garbine Muguruza.
Williams overcame a shaky start and nervy finish to deny the Spanish underdog 6-4 6-4 in one hour and 22 minutes on Saturday and become the oldest grand slam singles champion in professional tennis history.
The 33-year-old’s sixth title at the All England Club also earned the American a remarkable 21st career major, leaving her just one shy of German great Steffi Graf’s open-era benchmark of 22 singles slams.
The straight-sets success also gave the all-conquering world No.1 a second “Serena Slam” – 12 years after her first – with Williams now housing all four grand slam trophies at once.
Turning 34 in September, Williams also won last year’s US Open as well as the Australian Open and French Open in 2015 before denying Muguruza in her maiden major final to complete her second non-calendar-year grand slam sweep.
Williams will head to New York next month striving to become only the fourth woman in more than a century of grand slam tennis to win all four majors in the same year.
American Maureen Connolly (1953), Australian Margaret Smith Court (1970) and Graf, who also won the Olympics in 1988 to achieve the fabled “Golden Slam”, are the only other women to have managed the toughest feat in tennis.
Perhaps most incredibly of all, Williams has now won eight grand slam titles since turning 30.
“You’ve got to enjoy this. You’re looking at arguably the greatest female athlete in maybe the last 50 years. Not just in tennis. All sports,” John McEnroe marvelled from the courtside commentary box.
At 33 years and 288 days old, Williams is 25 days younger than when Martina Navratilova landed the last of her record nine titles at the All England Club in 1990.
Williams made a shocking start to the final, coughing up three double-faults and firing a backhand long to drop serve in the opening game.
“Maybe the first time I’ve ever seen Serena serve three doubles in a game,” McEnroe said.
True to her word, Muguruza, just 21 and with only one win at Wimbledon before last week, came out swinging and played fearlessly to consolidate for a 2-0 lead. Then 3-1.
The young challenger faced her first real tests in the fourth game – and passed with flying colours, saving two break points from 15-40 with more power-packed tennis to hold for 4-2.
But no one applies grand slam pressure more intensely than Williams and the American was rewarded with the break back for 4-4 as a Muguruza’s forehand began to falter.
The top seed then overcame her fourth double-fault to nudge ahead for the first time.
Under the pump serving trying to stay in set at 4-5 down, Muguruza lost her nerve – and her serve as the world No.20’s first double of the match gifted Williams set point.
Williams didn’t need a second, rifling a crosscourt forehand winner to snatch the set.
The world No.1 charged to a 5-1 lead in the second but, with history beckoning, twice dropped serve trying to close out the match as her double-fault tally climbed to eight.
But the ageless champion regrouped and clinched victory on her third match point when another Muguruza forehand sailed wide and long.