Article on him in the Guardian during Wimbledon now takes on a whole new connotation
Serena Williams hopes secret weapon can make final difference at Wimbledon
At the age of 30 and with 13 grand slam singles titles, including four Wimbledons, there is not much about Serena Williams
that is not known. But when the American steps out to face Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in the final on Saturday, she will have something of a secret weapon in her camp. Patrick Mouratoglou, a Frenchman who runs a coaching academy on the outskirts of Paris, has been courtside for all of her matches here and is perhaps a small part of why she is in the final at all.
Mouratoglou is the coach who helped bring through Marcos Baghdatis and is now working with Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian who was a semi-finalist at Queen's Club and who is considered one of the most promising young players around. It was shortly after last month's French Open, when Williams suffered a shock first-round defeat by Virginie Razzano, that the American called Mouratoglou to ask if she could come and train there for a few days. The answer was an immediate yes and the pair have been pretty much inseparable since.
Mouratoglou has emphasised repeatedly that he is not her coach – that distinction belongs, as ever, to her father, Richard Williams. The Williams serve, which has yielded 85 aces in the tournament to date, has been the single best stroke of the Championships and, though Mouratoglou is not taking credit for that, the way he has been working with the American on the practice courts would suggest that a few tips have done wonders for her game.
"Yeah, she didn't know how to serve at all so we decided to spend a little time on the serve and it looks like it works well," Mouratoglou joked on Friday. "And also she didn't know how to win a grand slam and so she asked me, and I told her it's simple, you serve like crazy and you hit everything. I cannot say what we worked on but of course she's an unbelievable champion, her technique is great. Just little details can make big differences."
What Mouratoglou likes about Williams is that, despite everything she has achieved, she still wants to improve. "That's the most impressive thing," he said. "She's unbelievable because she wants to get better every day, to progress and be better. But I've been told that champions are not people like others."
Two years ago Williams suffered a blood clot on one of her lungs, was out for a year and briefly thought she might never play again. "I just wanted to make it through everything that I was going through and become a survivor," she said. "I've been able to do that. I've been through so much in the past year or two years, it's been unbelievable. If you just keep [believing], you can do it."
Whichever way you look at it, Williams is a massive favourite to beat Radwanska, not least since the Pole, who will be playing in her first grand slam final, is struggling with an "upper respiratory problem". Having been forced to cancel her press engagements for a second consecutive day, she released a statement in which she said the illness is "affecting her nose and throat". There seems little chance she will not take to the court for the biggest day of her career but being below 100% against an opponent of Williams's calibre is not exactly the stuff of dreams.
"I have been playing a lot of matches here in the rain and cold wind and I haven't been well for a few days," she said in a statement. "The most important thing is that I'm feeling good on the court and playing some good tennis
, despite not being able to talk much away from the court. I will do whatever it takes to make sure I'm ready to play the best I can.
"It was unfortunate that the illness meant I had to withdraw from doubles. Of course, it is always a good sign to be playing singles and doubles in the second week of a grand slam but I wasn't able to continue in both events."
Provided she is fit, the 23-year-old knows she will need to play at her best to stand a chance. The first Pole in a major final since 1939, her clever, tactical game will be fully tested by the sheer power of Williams who, after a slow start, hit full throttle in victories over last year's winner, Petra Kvitova, and the world No2 Victoria Azarenka on the way to the final.
Should the unthinkable happen and she does win the title, Radwanska would leap to the top of the world rankings. Most people think Williams just needs to show up to win but the American is having none of it. "I have to go out there and win," she said. "Agnieszka has had a better year than I have. She's been way more consistent than me. She's done really well, so she's ranked higher than me. She deserves to be. I have to go out there and fight for this. This is by no means going to be easy."