Simona Halep produced a superb display in her first Wimbledon final to storm to the title and keep Serena Williams waiting again for number 24.
The 27-year-old’s 6-2 6-2 victory makes her the first Romanian to win a singles title at the All England Club and added to the French Open crown she claimed last summer.
This is the third time since Williams’ return last spring from the birth of her daughter that she has been one victory away from finally equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record for slam singles titles.
But, as she had against Angelique Kerber here 12 months ago and Naomi Osaka in New York, Williams once again fell short, seemingly unable to put thoughts of history out of her mind.
Enormous credit, though, must go to Halep, who showed herself to be not just one of tennis’ great defenders, chasing down everything Williams could throw at her, but also a strong attacking force.
But it was Halep’s day, the Romanian needing just 56 minutes to race to victory, dropping to her knees when Williams’ final forehand hit the net.
Halep had beaten Williams just once in 10 previous meetings, at the WTA Finals five years ago, but finally ending her grand slam drought in her fourth final had changed her mentality.
She has found her grass-court legs this tournament having previously struggled to adapt to the surface and played a superb match against Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals, losing only four games.
That was one more than Williams in her clash with Barbora Strycova but Halep was a step up from her previous opponents, and she showed that immediately.
Williams’ serve sets her apart from the rest of the women’s game but Halep had a read on it from the first point and she took advantage of a tight start from the American to break in the opening game.
One of the big questions was always going to be how heavily history would weigh on Williams’ shoulders, and she looked like she had lead in her right arm and her feet.
Halep, by contrast, was right at home in a Wimbledon final, and she brought the crowd to their feet with a running forehand winner to bring up more break points in Williams’ next service game, taking the first with a backhand down the line.
It seemed scarcely believable when she served the first ace of the match to make it 4-0.
Williams knew she needed to loosen up and quickly, and she stopped the rot with a service hold, striking the ball with much greater fluidity.
Halep would not yield, though, absorbing Williams’ power and sending it back with interest, first with a backhand pass that had her opponent applauding and then a forehand hooked from one corner to the other.
“Serena, wake up” came a shout from the crowd, but every time she thought she had hit a winner, back it came, and Halep wrapped up the opening set in just 26 minutes.
Williams had talked in the build-up about needing to tread the fine line between ice and fire, and the guttural roar she let out after winning the second point of the second set showed she was leaning towards the latter.
Another fierce grunt accompanied a 123mph serve into the net, but Halep was not about to be intimidated now she had come this far.
Williams has not won a grand slam final after losing the first set since 2005 so the size of the task was clear, but she was not up to it, Halep breaking serve again for 3-2 and never looking like faltering.
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The men’s quarter-finals take place at Wimbledon on Wednesday with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all in action.
The trio will be favourites to fill three of the four semi-final berths, with the other going to Guido Pella or Roberto Bautista Agut, while Andy Murray and Serena Williams are back on court in the mixed doubles.
Here, PA previews the ninth day of action.
ORDER OF PLAY
Novak Djokovic v David Goffin
Kei Nishikori v Roger Federer
Guido Pella v Roberto Bautista Agut
Sam Querrey v Rafael Nadal
Andy Murray/Serena Williams v Bruno Soares/Nicole Melichar
With no Brits left in the singles draws, Murray is flying the flag in the mixed doubles. ‘Murena’ – the nickname chosen by Williams – have breezed through the first two rounds, but face a tougher test against top seeds Bruno Soares and Nicole Melichar
Match of the day
Federer’s showdown with Kei Nishikori is the only one of the four matches to have tallied with the seedings.
Eight-time winner Federer bowed out at the same stage last year to Kevin Anderson, while Nishikori won their last meeting at the ATP Finals in December.
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Murray was back on his favourite court 724 days after he hobbled off in 2017 and he and the 23-time grand-slam winner beat Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi 6-4 6-1 on their debut outing.
These two are used to winning on Centre – they have claimed nine singles titles between them – and they proved that no matter how new the partnership, old habits die hard.
“For me it was a great experience being back on Centre Court with Serena after the last year or so being tough. It was nice. I enjoyed it,” the Scot said.
“I think like towards the end of the match when you’re kind of in control on the scoreboard, it’s easier to sort of relax and enjoy it, whereas the first set, we were obviously taking it seriously to win.”
Never has a mixed-doubles partnership received so much attention, but it did not disappoint as Williams’ baseline power and Murray’s guile at the net means they will be a real force in this discipline.
Williams admitted that she was feeling nervous beforehand, perhaps which accounts for her playing the first two points of the match with her accreditation lanyard around her neck, but the American performed better than she expected.
“At some point I started feeling a lot of pressure,” she said. “‘Oh, my God, I have to do well because this match is so hyped that I want to see it’.
“I didn’t even want to be in it, I kind of just wanted to watch it. Maybe I’ll try to get a video of it or watch it somewhere.
“Overall I think I was able to handle my nerves pretty good, do better than I thought I was going to do.
“It’s definitely awesome to share a court with Andy, especially this particular stage. Like I said, whenever you’re a grand-slam winner, you always learn something.
“But, yeah, we are still young in our relationship on the court. We still have a lot to learn.”
Victory will have provided some comfort for Murray after his defeat in the men’s doubles with Pierre-Hugues Herbert earlier in the day.
Despite winning the first set, they went down 6-7 (4) 6-4 6-2 6-3 to sixth seeds Nikola Metkic and Franko Skugor.
Murray would have been hoping to go deep in the tournament, but was not too disappointed.
“It’s not a blow really in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “I know you guys (the media) were talking about winning the doubles, winning mixed doubles, playing 12 matches in 11 days, things like that.
“I was aware that that wasn’t going to be the case most likely. We played against a really good team today that are ranked five or six in the world.
“The first two sets I felt like we were the better team.
“I think if we got the second, I think we would have run away with it. We lost a tough game at the end of the second. Those guys played really well the last couple of sets.”
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