The lesson of the semi-finals was clear. A serene Serena Williams remains all but invincible, even as she approaches her 38th birthday.
Williams produced her most dominant win of the tournament, barging an underpowered Barbora Strycova out of her way in just 59 minutes.
Then, after rounding off a straight-sets victory with her 28th clean winner, Williams told reporters about a moment of quiet contemplation earlier in the day.
Asked about her pursuit of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major titles – a tally she would equal if she beats Simona Halep in Saturday’s final – Williams said: “I thought about it this morning. I just kind of let it go this morning. Yeah, I feel really calm about it.
“It’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25. It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career.”
Thursday’s match offered the same banana-skin potential as Williams’s 2015 US Open semi-final against Roberta Vinci. In both cases, Williams was the strong favourite, taking on a veteran of the tour who had never reached that stage of a major before. And in both cases, there was a massive prize at stake – either the calendar grand slam, four years ago, or Court’s record this time around.
Vinci and Strycova even employed a similar game style. A pair of champion doubles players, they tried to outflank Williams’s raw power with changes of pace and frequent visits to the net. But while Williams had been flustered and erratic against Vinci, she was a model of composure from the first game, which she won with a delicate, angled smash.
One feature of Williams’s near-flawless performance was the way that she matched or even exceeded Strycova’s dexterity in the forecourt – a surprising development that she later put down to her mixed doubles campaign with Andy Murray. “I promise you, when I hit a volley I was like, ‘Would I have made that if I didn’t play doubles?’” Williams said. “I don’t think so. I kept telling you guys I thought the doubles would help me. I know that when I play doubles here with Venus it definitely helps my singles game. I was really keen to play mixed here.”
If Strycova did not put up as much of a fight as she had against Johanna Konta in Tuesday’s quarter-final, that was partly because she tweaked a right gluteal muscle on the second point of the match, so restricting her normally fleet-footed movement.
Yet as Strycova admitted afterwards, in a surprisingly cheerful interview, she would have been powerless to cope with Williams on this form in any case.
“I was playing a totally different player today, totally different groundstrokes,” she said, after an afternoon spent chasing shadows.
Konta strikes the ball hard, but Williams was obliterating it. Whatever she did to fix up her dodgy right knee after her third-round exit from the French Open, it has worked a treat. So why was Williams’s performance yesterday so superior to her previous five matches? Perhaps it had something to do with that morning meditation, which helped her put the expectations and pressure to one side.
The next thing you know, she will be emulating Novak Djokovic by frequenting the nearby Buddhapadipa Temple – a Buddhist retreat staffed by saffron-robed monks.
“I was actually thinking this morning [about] when I won my first Wimbledon,” Williams said.
“I think it was against Venus. I was trying to tap into those emotions. I was really calm. It’s so, so different when you’re younger as opposed to now.”
Saturday promises to be a great occasion. Not only did Halep inflict an equally crushing defeat on eighth seed Elina Svitolina, but all four of her previous major finals produced three-set epics.
On today’s evidence, though, this title is Williams’s to win or lose.
If she can remain as emotionally stable as she was against Strycova, and somehow forget the size of the stakes, she will be well-placed to collect her first major since she left the tour to become a mother, early in 2017.