LONDON Standing a set and 5-1 up in the Wimbledon final against a Spaniard playing only her second match in tennis's most famous arena, a fourth consecutive grand slam singles title looked a formality for Serena Williams on Saturday.
She duly completed the job against Garbine Muguruza 6-4 6-4 to claim the so-called 'Serena Slam' and will head to the U.S. Open bidding to become only the third woman to win the "calendar year" Grand Slam in the professional era.
But an angst-ridden finale in which Muguruza tenaciously fought back showed that, despite Williams's vast experience and vice-like grip on women's tennis, crossing the finishing line for a 21st grand slam title made her heart pound just as fast as when she made her first breakthrough at the 1999 U.S. Open.
Which, for her rivals hoping that at nearly 34 the American will become blase about collecting trophies, is bad news.
"I just learned that all the people are nervous, even Serena, in a final, because I saw it," Muguruza, the first Spaniard to contest a Wimbledon women's singles showpiece match since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1996, told reporters.
In winning her sixth Wimbledon title and first since 2012, Williams became the oldest woman to raise the Venus Rosewater Dish in the modern era and, unless she suffers a dip in form, it seems unlikely anyone can stop her march into the history books at the U.S. Open where she is unbeaten since 2011.
On Saturday, however, she was celebrating the self-styled 'Serena Slam' which she also managed in 2002.
"I honestly wouldn't have thought last year after winning the U.S. Open I would win the Serena Slam at all," said the world number one. "It's super exciting.
"I just knew I wanted to win Wimbledon this year. Of all the grand slams, it was the one I hadn't won in a while."
Muguruza, the clean-hitting 21-year-old born in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, played magnificently in the first set, leading until Williams raised the intensity levels after a slow start to take the opener.
The enormity of the occasion and the sheer presence of Williams then seemed to hit home and the Spaniard crumbled, losing 14 out of 15 points to trail 5-1 as her vastly-experienced American opponent closed in for the kill.
Then, Williams got an attack of the jitters.
Serving at 5-1 she was broken to love.
Muguruza loosened her shoulders and started swinging as she had in the early stages of the match when she had broken serve in the opening game and led 3-1.
Williams began to miss and the 20th seeded Muguruza, backed by a capacity Centre Court crowd wanting more for their money, held for 3-5.
It still seemed only a mild inconvenience for Williams as she stepped up to serve for the match for a second time.
Her anxiety was apparent when she began the game with an eighth double-fault, gesticulating to her players' box where her family and friends, including rapper Drake, watched on.
Muguruza won the next two points with backhand winners, the second one almost leaving Williams in an ungainly heap on the baseline.
Williams replied with an angry ace and screamed "Where have you been?" to her trusty weapon. Two more booming aces earned her a match point but a tense rally ended with Muguruza punishing a mid-court ball.
Some incredible retrieving from Muguruza at deuce coaxed a rash error from the Williams racket and a point later the set was back on serve when the Spaniard planted a forehand past the wrong-footed top seed.
A Muguruza double-fault and a net-cord calmed Williams' nerves, however, and she converted her second match point when Muguruza hit wide, although silenced briefly reigned as both players seemed unsure whether the ball had clipped a line.
"I think she really stepped up to the plate today," Williams said of her young opponent who shed tears when receiving a long ovation as she collected her runners-up trophy.
"She came out there to win. She wasn't out there just to play a final. I think that says a lot about her and her future.
"She never gave up literally ever."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)