Serena Williams had grown used to bringing one item of clothing to Wimbledon without wearing it. Each year the American packed a dress for the champions' dinner in anticipation of recapturing the title she won in 2002 and 2003, but the garment remained unworn.
"I always bring one just in case, though I almost didn't bring one this year because it had been so long since I won," Serena said yesterday as she reflected on her 7-6, 6-2 win over her sister Venus in Saturday's final. "I've actually brought two dresses here this year. One is a 'crowd-stopper', but I'm thinking of not wearing it."
If five Wimbledon titles had made Venus the modern-day queen of Wimbledon, there was no doubt that Serena came here as the outstanding player of the last 12 months, even if the world rankings, absurdly, put her at No 2 behind Dinara Safina. Having been beaten by Venus in last year's final, Serena had gone on to win the US Open and Australian Open titles. "I always thought I would win Wimbledon again," she said. "I just didn't know when."
While Saturday's first set was tight, this was an emphatic victory. Serena, who served superbly throughout the tournament, dropped only eight out of 54 points on her serve and saved the only two break points Venus created in the eighth game of the first set. Venus looked to be suffering with a knee injury, particularly in the second set, although both players denied it had been a major factor.
At 27, Serena expects to remain at the top for a good while yet, with the sisters even talking about playing doubles at the 2016 Olympics. Serena said her appetite for hard work was greater than ever. "I'm definitely working on my fitness so that I can last longer," she said.
"I never worked out when I was younger. I just showed up at tournaments. Maybe I was young and just thought I could do that. The young kids are all working out now. But I want to be fit. I want to go out and run three miles every day. I want to look good, so if I can look good and it helps my tennis then the two things go hand in hand."
She added: "I don't want to retire because I'm not fit. I feel really, really young. I think it helps that in the past I haven't played every week. I think that's definitely helped to prolong my career."
Not playing every week is the major reason why Serena does not top the world rankings, which are based on a rolling total of points accumulated from results over the previous 12 months. While there are more points available for Grand Slam tournaments, it is possible for players to top the rankings through a relentless pursuit of rewards at lesser events. Safina, the current No 1, and Jelena Jankovic, one of her recent predecessors, both reached the top without winning a Grand Slam title.
Although Serena had one further dig at the rankings system – "If I win the US Open maybe I'll be No 3" –she was not in the mood to drive home the point. "I'm not really concerned about the rankings," she said. "It would be great to be No 1, but to be honest everyone thinks that I'm No 1 anyway."
There has been only one Wimbledon final which has not featured Serena or Venus since the turn of the century, while Maria Sharapova and Amélie Mauresmo are the only other winners of the Venus Rosewater Dish in that period. The sisters have won 18 Grand Slam titles between them, with 11 going to Serena and seven to Venus.
Their supremacy, however, also exposes the vacuum beneath the top two. Safina, who has lost two Grand Slam finals this year, was humiliated by Venus in the semi-finals here, winning only one game. Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, the two Serbs who seemed set to offer a lasting challenge to the Williams sisters, have both fallen away in the last year. Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova are usually in contention towards the end of the bigger events but rarely look capable of going all the way.
Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki head a new generation of players, though they have yet to make their Grand Slam breakthrough. "I think there are a lot of players – all from eastern Europe – who have a solid game and are doing really well," Serena said, without ever sounding wholly convinced by her own argument.
"I think Wozniacki is really good. You can't underestimate anyone. There's probably some young girl out there I don't even know who's working really hard. I would love to see Melanie Oudin do well because she's from the United States. There will be people who challenge us. They do already. But I do feel that if I play my best it's really hard for anyone to beat me."
Venus said 12 months ago that she looked forward to celebrating her victory with a cheeseburger and fries. Serena said she was looking forward to not eating at all.
"I didn't eat too much because I was a little tired," Serena said. "I just look forward to not eating. For the tournament you have to eat so much – pasta, starches and boring food. I just want to sit down and not have anybody stuff food at my face.
"That's really what I'm looking forward to. I'm tired of always having to eat to make sure I have energy."
Cool operator: Saving it for the Slams
Serena Williams appears to reserve her best form for the Slams as her record over the last 18 months shows:
US Open New York Sept 2008 ......... Won
Porsche Grand Prix, Stuttgart Oct 2008 ......... Lost in second round
Tour Champs Qatar Nov 2008 .............................. Failed to qualify from round-robin
Medibank International, Sydney Jan 2009 ......... Lost in semi-finals
Australian Open Melbourne Jan 2009 ......... Won
GDF Suez Open, Paris Feb 2009 ......... Lost in semi-finals
Barclays Championships, Dubai Feb 2009 ......... Lost in semi-finals
Sony Ericsson Open, Miami March 2009 ......... Lost in final
Andalucia Tennis Experience April 2009 ......... Lost in first round
BNL Italian International, Rome May 2009 ......... Lost in second round
Mutua Madrilena Open, Madrid May 2009 ......... Lost in first round
French Open Paris June 2009 ......... Lost in quarter-finals
Wimbledon July 2009 ......... Won
Serena's roll of honour:
Wimbledon 2002, 2003, 2009. US Open 1999, 2002, 2008. French Open 2002. Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009