Once again a record beckons for Serena Williams.

Victory over Simona Halep on Centre Court on Saturday afternoon would see her equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

It is a record which has been looming for some time – since Williams’ last major win at the 2017 Australian Open.

Of course, she didn’t play again for more than a year due to her pregnancy, but last season she reached two Grand Slam finals and lost them both in straight sets – here to Angelique Kerber and, famously, in spectacular fashion to Naomi Osaka at the US Open.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Serena Williams of The United States prepares ahead of her Ladies' Singles semi-final match against Barbora Strycova of The Czech Republic during Day Ten of The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

It’s now four defeats in her last six Grand Slam finals and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this has been a period in which she has been chasing the records of Court and Steff Graf, whose Open-era mark of 22 has now been surpassed.

Pressure Is On?

We also saw what pressure can do when Williams was stunned by Roberta Vinci in the 2015 US Open when she was just two wins from completing the calendar-year Grand Slam.

Williams was doing her best to play down what reaching 24 would mean when she was questioned about it after her semi-final demolition of Barbora Strycova but I can’t believe the potential achievement won’t be a factor in this match.

The good thing for Williams is that she’s facing an opponent who she has defeated in nine of their previous 10 meetings.

There have been some comfortable successes in that run and a look through the head-to-head shows that there was a 6-0 set in four of their first five matches.

However, as Halep has improved – she’s since been world number one and broken her Grand Slam duck – their matches have got noticeably closer.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Simona Halep of Romania plays a forehand in her Ladies' Singles semi-final match against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine during Day Ten of The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

A Tight Affair

Williams may have won the last five, but three of those went to three sets, including this year’s meeting at the Australian Open where Halep had chances to break serve at 3-3 at the decider. Arguably she should have won.

The total games make-ups in that run have been 27-27-19-22-30 – four of the five are over the mark of 21.5 set for this clash.

It’s hard to see Halep being swept aside a la Strycova (who seemed to be carrying an injury, it should be added) and she does have the ability to live with Williams’ power-hitting.

She’s posted several eye-catching wins during her run to the final, destroying Victoria Azarenka, easing past player-of-the-moment Coco Gauff and dispatching Elina Svitolina with ease in the semis.

With Williams not as solid on serve as she’s been here in the past – arguably the slower conditions have something to do with that – I’d expect Halep to create break chances.

History also suggests that will be the case. In fact the Romanian has always broken the Williams serve when they’ve met – and she’s done so at least twice in their last seven matches.

Holding onto her own delivery will therefore be key to her chances of success but she’s only lost it five times in the last four rounds.

Williams certainly struggled when Alison Riske went toe-to-toe with her in the power stakes in the quarter-finals and Halep will aim to use her movement to gain an advantage in any such rallies.

If she can drag Williams around, she’ll enjoy success.

So what’s the best bet?

At 6/4, Halep is hardly being written off but I do feel there’s potential value there.

However, I prefer the chances of this going longer than the layers expect.

Over 21.5 games at 20/23 looks the play.

Williams often has a period in a match when her feared forehand goes off and starts sailing long or into the net and Halep is more than capable of taking advantage.

We’ve seen that in Grand Slam finals too – here against Agnieszka Radwanska in 2012 when what looked an easy 2-0 win became a three-set struggle. There were also two examples at the US Open against Azarenka when straight-sets victories had looked on the cards only to turn into something much harder.

It may be Halep is capable of taking complete advantage but I still see Williams as the rightful favourite, so this bet make the best sense.

The recent make-ups suggest so too.


Over 21.5 games

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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