On the first point of the women’s final at Wimbledon on Saturday, Angelique Kerber ended a rally with a forehand winner down the line.
On the next, Serena Williams sent a backhand crosscourt winner that scorched the baseline.
Yes, it was going to be one of those matches. But unlike in their duel in the Australian Open final in January, Williams came out the winner.
Williams tied Steffi Graf’s Open-era record for Grand Slam singles titles, gaining her 22nd with a 7-5, 6-3 victory. Margaret Court holds the overall record for Grand Slam titles, with 24 from 1960 to 1973.
Williams, 34, has insisted that “22 has never been my goal,” but despite reaching three Grand Slam finals in a row this year, she had not been able to reach it.
She had not won a major championship since last year’s Wimbledon, losing in the semifinals at the 2015 United States Open and the finals at the Australian and French Opens this year.
In her remarks on the court after the match, Williams said it had been “incredibly difficult” not to think about Graf’s record.
“It makes the victory even sweeter to know how hard I worked for it,” she added.
Kerber, the No. 4 seed who will ascend to the No. 2 spot in the world rankings on Monday, entered the final having not lost a set at Wimbledon.
Williams also had been rolling through the draw since losing the first set of her second-round match against Christina McHale.
Chris Evert, an analyst for ESPN, said earlier in the week that Williams was playing “as good as I’ve seen her play in the last year.”
“Less ups and downs, no drama, no dips,” Evert said.
The same could be said of Williams’s performance Saturday. As usual, it was her serve that gave her the title. She hit 13 aces, lost only five points on her first serve, and faced just one break point. Forty-three percent of her serves went unreturned.
As frustrated as she was during Williams’s service games, Kerber stayed in the match, playing great defense and using the same aggressive, fearless shotmaking that won her the title in Australia.
Kerber survived a nervous first service game, saving three break points, but she could not gain any traction on Williams’s serve until 3-3 in the first set.
After Williams won a 21-shot rally to go up 40-15, Kerber won the next point on a forehand winner and forced an error by Williams to get to 40-40. But she would get no closer to breaking Williams’s serve in the set.
With Williams serving at 5-5, the set turned. Down 15-30, Williams unleashed three unreturnable serves to win the game.
She quickly got two break points in the next game, taking the game and the set on the second.
Kerber did not back down, however. She hit a backhand winner to end a 15-shot rally early in the second set, causing Williams to applaud.
“I love playing her,” Williams said after the match. “She’s such a great opponent. She brings out great tennis in me.”
Kerber finally got her first break point of the match at 3-3, 30-40. Naturally, Williams hit two aces in a row to get out of trouble.
In the next game, both players earned an ovation for an acrobatic rally at the net. Kerber was up, 40-15, in the game, but was forced into three straight errors, which gave Williams her first and only break point of the second set.
She converted and then served for the match. Kerber could not get the ball in play on the first three serves, giving Williams three championship points.
Williams closed out the match with a forehand winner at the net, then fell to the grass, lying on her back to take in the long-awaited moment.
It was Williams’s seventh Wimbledon singles title, tying Graf for second on the Open-era list behind Martina Navratilova’s nine.