LONDON — Maybe there is something to the theory espoused by some that Serena Williams has been having so much trouble winning her 22nd Grand Slam title because she cares too much about tying Steffi Graf's Open-era record.
Listen to the way Williams described the state of her game heading into today's Wimbledon final against Angelique Kerber:
"I feel good. I felt great in other tournaments, as well. But I feel a little different," Williams said. "I just feel more relaxed and more at peace than I may have been in the past."
A few minutes later, she was asked to elaborate on what exactly she meant.
"Well, you know, just sometimes, when you are fighting, sometimes you want something so bad, it can hinder you a little bit," Williams said. "Now I'm just a little bit more calm."
But the No. 1 player in the WTA rankings insisted that her so-close-yet-so-far pursuit of Graf's Open-era (since 1968) record had not been weighing on her.
"My goal has never been 22," Williams said after her semifinal victory over Elena Vesnina on Thursday. "I don't talk about that anymore."
After winning Wimbledon a year ago for her fourth consecutive Grand Slam title and 21st of her career, Williams lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals, to Kerber in the Australian Open final and to Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final.
That meeting with Williams, 34, on a hardcourt at Melbourne in January was the first major title match for Kerber, a 28-year-old from Germany who considers Graf an idol and has received advice from her.
The No. 4-seeded Kerber's left-handed, counter-punching game — watch during baseline exchanges as she bends so low that a knee touches the ground — gave Williams trouble in the Australian Open final. It also has created problems for every opponent at Wimbledon: Kerber has won all 12 sets she has played entering the final, including during a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Williams' sister Venus in the semifinals.
Might Venus offer Serena any advice about how to beat Kerber?
"I'll give her a few pointers," Venus said. "For the most part, she's got to go out there and play the match she wants to play, not that I want her to play."
Serena-Kerber II represents the first time in a decade that two women play each other in a pair of Grand Slam finals in the same season: Amelie Mauresmo defeated Justine Henin for the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2006.
Can Kerber go 2-for-2 against Serena?
"I will just try to (go) out there like in Australia," Kerber said, "trying to show her, 'Okay, I'm here to win the match as well.' I know that I have to play my best tennis to beat her in the final."