History was made at Wimbledon this year when all the top-10 seeds were knocked out before the quarter-finals for the first time. Although Serena Williams seemingly restored a sense of normality by reaching the final at the All England Club for the 10th time in her illustrious career with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 triumph over Julia Görges on Thursday, this time her appearance in the showpiece is far from ordinary.
Serena's incredible return
Just 10 months ago the seven-time Wimbledon champion gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia, and complications stemming from an emergency C-section and her predisposition to blood clots left her bed-ridden for her first six weeks of motherhood. When you have won all there is to win and are seemingly entering the twilight of your career, most athletes would be forgiven for deciding to wind things up and call it a day following such an ordeal. But that is not Williams.
After taking tentative steps in her return to the sport in which she has long been the dominant force, just 13 matches into her comeback and ranked 181st in the world, she appeared to be working at the level that enabled her to win 23 grand slams. A stunning double-handed backhand to hold serve for 3-2 in the opening set was followed with a cry of "Come on!" from the 36-year-old. It was a sign that she was about to turn things up a notch.
Görges could only find the tram lines with a forehand down the line as Williams forced the first break, and a swirling cross-court forehand proved too difficult for her to return as the first set went the way of the imperious American. A gamble with a drop shot from beyond the baseline against break point that failed to pay off exemplified the confidence of grand slam semi-final debutant Görges, who is enjoying the form of her career after making big decisions to try to achieve what she felt capable of.
Ahead of the 2016 season Görges split with long-time coach Sascha Nensel and appointed an entirely new team. She also relocated to the south of Germany and cut back on playing doubles with Karolina Pliskova, who she reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon with two years ago - only to lose to, you guessed it, the Williams sisters.
The 13th seed's response to falling a set and a break down was one of remarkable conviction and maturity, getting back on serve as Williams wobbled with an opportunity to close out the match and dropped her serve for just the seventh time in the competition. But Görges' composure deserted her and a double fault handed Williams a trio of match points. She needed just one.
"It's crazy" an elated Serena Williams said
It meant a familiar name will stand opposite Angelique Kerber in a repeat of the 2016 final, which Williams triumphed in, but the iconic American was keen to emphasise that her latest journey to the second Saturday cannot be considered run of the mill. "It's crazy, I don't even know how to feel because I didn't expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back," she said. "This was not inevitable for me. I had a really tough delivery, I had to have multiple surgeries and almost didn't make it. I almost couldn't make it to my mailbox, so it's definitely not normal for me to be in a Wimbledon final."
Although while in some way it's business as usual that Williams is back in the final, this still threatens to be an extraordinary Wimbledon.