Friday July 8th, 2016

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber are set to face off in Saturday’s 2016 Wimbledon final, a rematch of this year’s Australian Open final. 

In January, Kerber won the first Grand Slam title of her career when she beat Williams 6–4, 3–6, 6–4 in Melbourne. Williams hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon last year, which qualifies as a drought for the 21–time Grand Slam winner. 

This year’s final promises plenty of intrigue, particularly as Williams—the world’s No. 1 player—has lost her last two Slam finals. Kerber hasn’t dropped a set at the tournament so far. 

Here’s what to watch for when Williams and Kerber take the court on Saturday. 

LISANTI: Serena, Kerber to meet with history on the line again

History on the line for Serena....again

Ah, that elusive record. Serena Williams is (still) one major title behind Steffi Graf for the all-time record in the Open Era. After winning No. 21 at Wimbledon last year, it seemed inevitable that she would win No. 22 sooner rather than later—specifically at the U.S. Open. Shockingly, she was upset in the semifinals by Roberta Vinci, and then she proceeded to lose the first two major finals of this year. What’s the deal?

Williams is 34, and sadly she’s not going to dominate forever. But the notion that her two Slam finals defeats this year signal some sort of rapid decline fails to acknowledge that she’s still reaching major finals and dominating like no other player on tour. Despite Kerber’s excellent tournament, Williams is a clear favorite to win on Saturday—and to catch Steffi Graf, at last. 

• WERTHEIM: Kerber downs Venus to set up rematch with Serena

Kerber could make some history, too

If No. 4-seed Kerber claims the title on Saturday, she would become the first German woman since Steffi Graf, whom Kerber has credited as an inspiration, in 1996 to win Wimbledon. But she’d also become the first woman not named Serena Williams to win two Slams in a calendar year since Justine Henin, who won both the French and U.S. Opens in 2007. 

After the French Open, Garbine Muguruza seemed like she could be the next big thing in women’s tennis. Her surprising second–round exit at Wimbledon hardly rules out this possibility, but it also seems we underestimated Kerber. To be fair, her summer didn’t get off to a promising start when she lost in the first round at Roland Garros, but the 28-year-old is proving that she isn’t going to be a one–major wonder. 

First meeting on grass

Williams and Kerber have played seven times, but all on hard courts. Williams has won five of those matches and lost two—including a pretty big one this past January—but on Saturday they’ll face off on grass. 

It remains to be seen how grass will affect each player tactically, but it would seem to favor Williams. In this year‘s Australian Open final, Kerber put 81% of Williams’s serves back in play, a remarkable number against the world No. 1. On a faster surface, Kerber is unlikely to repeat her success. 

Kerber’s second serve is a liability, and Williams will surely take advantage by going for power on her return, which on grass could prove overwhelming. Against Venus Williams on Thursday, Kerber converted 71% of her first serves, and she could use a similar performance on Saturday. 

Can Serena avoid unforced errors?

Beating Serena Williams is extraordinarily hard to do, but sometimes she beats herself. Her longest match of this tournament, a three–setter with Christina McHale, featured a staggering 40 unforced errors from Williams, 21 more than she hit in any other match. 

Kerber played quite well in January’s Australian Open final, but Williams was sloppy, making 46 unforced errors and double-faulting six times. She can’t do that again if she’s going to beat Kerber, who has played largely mistake-free tennis this tournament. 

Don’t read too much into Serena’s dominant SF win

Williams was incredible in Thursday‘s semifinal, blowing Elena Vesnina off the court with a 6–2, 6–0 win that lasted just 48 minutes—the quickest-ever Wimbledon semifinal. 

But Williams’s 2016 has demonstrated that semifinal success is no guarantor of a similar result in the final. In the Australian Open semifinal earlier this year, Williams beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6–0, 6–4 before falling to Kerber in the final. She had a bit of a tougher semifinal match at the French Open, winning a tight first–set tiebreaker on her way to a straight–sets win over Kiki Bertens, but Williams was outplayed by Garbine Muguruza in the final. 

Williams’s dominance in the last four rounds of Wimbledon is an encouraging sign—but momentum can be misleading. 

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