Nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova has said her “dream match” would have been on Centre Court against Serena Williams.
Williams will claim an eighth singles crown at the All England Club if she beats Germany’s Angelique Kerber on Saturday and, despite approaching the age of 37, looks capable of matching or even surpassing Navratilova’s record haul.
They accumulated their stash of titles in contrasting fashion. Czech-born American Navratilova did so playing mainly at the net while Williams has claimed 23 Grand Slam singles titles with a game based on a booming first serve and ferocious baseline power.
Separated in age by 25 years, their careers overlapped only briefly and Navratilova, who herself won 18 Grand Slam singles crowns, never faced Williams on a singles court.
Had it happened it would have been some match.
“If I could pick to play any one single player from another generation it would be Serena Williams at Wimbledon, no question,” Navratilova said in her London Evening Standard newspaper column on Friday.
“It would have been the dream match for me to test my serve and volley against her power game, although it would never have been enough to just serve and volley as she loves a target.
“The only answer is to try to mix it up, but the power she possesses is something to contend with. For me, it would have been an interesting match-up and the competitor in me would have fancied my chances!”
Navratilova has been as impressed as anyone watching Williams’s Wimbledon return, the American having been absent last year as she prepared to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia.
Williams played only seven matches this year before arriving at Wimbledon but has reached her 10th final in scintillating form, dropping only one set along the way.
Navratilova says she represents the ultimate challenge, especially on her favourite grass surface.
“First and foremost with Serena, you have to get into the point. Once you do that, you’ve got a chance, but she wins points so quickly: serve and next shot or else just a straight return winner,” Navratilova said.
“Even if you do break her (serve), you encounter a fresh problem: you make Serena mad – and she likes to retaliate immediately. Before you know it, like with her semi-final against Julia Goerges, it’s game over.
“The noises she makes are ferocious. The players feel it and they hear the exhalation before they see the ball, so it’s like a forewarning to what’s coming, and that causes them to back away just a fraction.
“Very few can stand up to it. It’s all about opening a small window and taking that chance because, once she gets going, it’s lights out.”
Victory on Saturday will tie Williams with Australian Margaret Court on a record 24 Grand Slam titles but Navratilova believes the American can pull away.
“When 24 comes, where does it stop? I don’t know because the body’s holding up and the desire is there. She’s playing like the pressure is off.”