WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams walked into her news conference at Wimbledon holding her phone, a cold bottle of water and a statistics sheet that reinforced what was clear from watching her third-round singles victory Saturday:
She is as close to being back to her best as she’s been in a while.
Williams, hampered for much of this season by injuries or illness, took a step forward against 18th-seeded Julia Goerges, a powerful hitter in her own right who lost to the American in last year’s semifinals at the All England Club. Sure enough, Williams hit serves at up to 120 mph, put in a tournament-best 71 percent of her first serves, never faced so much as one break point and won 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s been an arduous year for me,” said Williams, who had competed only 12 times in 2019 until this week, mostly because of a bothersome left knee that finally is pain-free. “So every match, I’m hoping to improve tons.”
Maybe it was a good thing she played twice Saturday, then.
Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press
About 4½ hours after getting past Goerges at No. 1 Court, Williams headed out to Centre Court for her debut as Andy Murray’s teammate in mixed doubles. Other than one slip near the net when she lost her footing in the first set — she was fine and laughed it off — Williams looked good during their 6-4, 6-1 win against Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi, including smacking one serve at 122 mph, equaling the fastest hit in singles by any woman (her, naturally) during the tournament.
“Andy and I both love the competition. I know we both want to do well,” Williams said. “We’re not here just for show.”
There was a bit of debate beforehand: Who would play which side? And who would be in charge?
After all, they make quite a team — Williams owns 23 Grand Slam titles in singles, 14 in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles, while Murray has three major singles championships and two Olympic singles gold medals.
“I always play the forehand side,” Williams said. “If you want to play with me, I play forehand. It’s just the only rule I have.”
As for who made the duo’s decisions?
Williams’ response: “Well, we’re a team. There’s no ‘I’ in team.”
And Murray’s: “We were saying before the match, we’re both the younger sibling, so we’re used to being bossed by our older brother and sister. So we’re sort of taking turns, I guess.”
But Williams will have to definitely be her own boss if she is going to win an eighth singles championship at Wimbledon, and a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title overall.
She will want more performances like the one she gave against Goerges: forceful, yes, but nothing was forced.
“I play pretty good when I’m calm, but also super-intense, just finding the balance in between there,” the 37-year-old Williams said. “So it’s a hard balance to find, because sometimes when I’m too calm, I don’t have enough energy. Still trying to find that balance.”
Two more key stats on the paper she brought to her media session: She produced more winners than unforced errors, 19-15, while Goerges finished with 32 forced errors, a reflection of just how difficult Williams can make it for opponents to handle shots she sends their way.
After the traditional middle Sunday off, action resumes Monday with all fourth-round men’s and women’s singles matches.
Williams, who is seeded 11th, will face No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro. Other highlights on the women’s side will be No. 1 Ash Barty, who has a 15-match winning streak, against unseeded Alison Riske of the U.S.; and 15-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff versus No. 7 Simona Halep.
Howard Fendrich is an Associated Press writer.