WIMBLEDON, England — When Serena Williams withdrew from the French Open last month with a pectoral injury before her fourth-round match with Maria Sharapova, Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, wasted no time seeing the bright side.
“It’s O.K.,” he said defiantly. “She’ll win Wimbledon.”
A little more than a month later, Williams is two matches away from doing precisely that, two matches away from tying Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
There were doubts about Williams’s health, form and state of mind when she arrived at the All England Club, but she has dispelled them round by round and serve by big serve.
There were many of the latter in her 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 quarterfinal victory on Tuesday over Camila Giorgi, an unseeded Italian with ample power of her own.
It was fast-twitch, hug-the-baseline tennis. Giorgi, embracing the initiative and the risks, even managed to win the first set. Though Williams was undoubtedly under duress, she never looked overwrought and drained the suspense out of the match by winning her last three service games at love.
“It’s weird, sometimes I feel, ‘Man, I’m in trouble,’” Williams said. “For whatever reason, today I was so calm. Even when I was down the first set, I thought, ‘Well, she’s playing great. I’m doing a lot of right things. It is what is.’”
With a big goal in sight, Williams has cracked before against an unseeded Italian veteran, losing to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of the 2015 United States Open when Williams was just two victories away from completing the first Grand Slam in 27 years.
The weight of that chase proved too much to bear, but with Court’s record looming ever larger at Wimbledon, Williams has so far looked at ease with the circumstances.
Her draw is one of the cushiest of her long and rich career. She has faced no one in the top 50, and though she will finally face a seeded opponent in the semifinals in No. 13 Julia Görges of Germany, Görges has never been this deep in a Grand Slam tournament in singles and lost in the first round at Wimbledon the previous five years.
Williams, 36, beat the big-serving Görges in the third round of the French Open last month. But at age 29, Görges is finally in the final four at a major after rallying to win her quarterfinal against another late-blooming veteran, Kiki Bertens, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
“For me it’s much sweeter to get to the semifinal here than in probably other Grand Slams because I didn’t expect it from my side,” Görges said.
Thursday’s other semifinal will match No. 11 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany against No. 12 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.
Kerber, 30, and Ostapenko, 21, have never faced each other. They are from different tennis generations. They possess very different styles: Ostapenko is one of the game’s premier punchers; Kerber one of its premier counterpunchers.
But both are former Grand Slam champions back on the rise. Kerber won two majors in 2016 and also lost in the Wimbledon final to Williams that year. Ostapenko won the French Open last year by swinging for the lines without a smidgen of self doubt. Although she folded quickly when she defended her title in Paris this year, losing in the first round, Ostapenko has played as if she has another point to prove at Wimbledon, rumbling past five opponents without dropping a set.
On Tuesday, she defeated Dominika Cibulkova, a Slovak who takes plenty of risks from the baseline herself, 7-5, 6-4.
Asked if Ostapenko could go on to win the title, Cibulkova did not hesitate: “Of course she can. She made it before. She can make it again. She’s young. She’s playing with no fear. These are advantages. On the grass, I think she’s playing even better than on the clay. It might be. It might be her year.”
Ostapenko closed out their match on Court 1 minutes before Kerber closed out hers against Daria Kasatkina on Centre Court, the match of the day.
The score — 6-3, 7-5 — gave little indication of the levels of suspense and delight that Kerber and the 14th-seeded Kasatkina combined to produce. The second set featured just about every shot in the book, including one that might not have been in the book until now: a leaping backhand drop-shot winner from Kasatkina.
But then Kasatkina, a 21-year-old Russian who is having a breakout season, has so many tennis tools. The Centre Court crowd, some of whom had surely never seen her play in person, voiced their appreciation repeatedly as she put her collection of spins and rhythm shifts on display. She also won 22 of the 37 rallies that lasted for nine shots or more (there were only six rallies that long in the Williams-Giorgi match).
It was audacious, frequently brilliant stuff, but Kerber’s smaller set of implements ultimately proved more reliable. She was quicker and more consistent, but also bold — slapping her left-handed forehand down the line under pressure and finding a way to produce her trademark depth even in extremely defensive positions.
Most important, she showed remarkable resolve to close out the match by holding serve and nerve in the final set after Kasatkina had saved the first six match points in a memorable 12th game.
It was Kasatkina’s first appearance on Centre Court. It is unlikely to be her last, and with her skills and improvisational bent, it was entirely possible to imagine her someday holding up the Venus Rosewater Dish that goes to the women’s singles champion.
For now and for who knows quite how much longer, Williams is the woman who has the tightest grip on that trophy. She has won it seven times and has now won 19 straight singles matches at the All England Club, taking the title in 2015 and 2016 before skipping last year’s tournament because she was seven months pregnant.
She gave birth to her daughter, Olympia, in September by cesarean section and then experienced post-delivery complications that required further surgery. It has been a difficult road back to the business end of a major as Williams has struggled with her weight and her new priorities. But it has also been a remarkably speedy journey considering that Olympia, who recently began taking her first steps, is only 10 and a half months old.
This is just Williams’s fourth tour event since she returned to the circuit in March, and this is her first run past the third round. But Wimbledon, where the points are shorter and her formidable serve is often at its most effective, has long looked like the best place to truly judge the state of her game.
“I think I would have been shocked if she had come back and won her first tournament,” said Kamau Murray, who coaches Sloane Stephens. “With the game being so physical, I don’t think that can happen anymore, but I think this is about the time and about the number of matches someone would need to get back in the groove.”
Yet this comeback, the latest of many in her long and eventful run in the spotlight, is undoubtedly a new experience from Williams’s perspective.
“Because I have the baby,” she said Tuesday. “Being a mom is totally different. I still have to think, ‘Wow, I’m a mom.’ Every day it’s different for me.”
She recovered quickly from her muscle strain in Paris, which was partly caused by searching for extra power while serving. But she has adjusted her motion at Wimbledon to include more trunk rotation, and against Giorgi she hit her fastest serve of the tournament: 122 miles per hour. More critical, she lost only 14 points on serve, helped along by Giorgi’s refusal to adjust her service position or big-swinging approach.
Mouratoglou was surely enjoying the view behind his sunglasses, although he could not confirm that on Tuesday because he has agreed at Williams request not to speak publicly about her during this tournament. He did not mince words in Paris, criticizing her decision to play doubles as well as singles because it left her vulnerable to injury and complaining that she had left him out of the loop.
Mouratoglou declined to explain the particulars.
“I made that commitment to not speak,” he said after Tuesday’s victory. “For her to win Wimbledon is much more important than my freedom of expression.”
For those who know Mouratoglou, that is quite a change, but he is already on the record about who will win this year’s Wimbledon title.
Two more victories, and Williams will prove him right.