A final too painful to watch

Serena defeats her stricken sister to retain title in three-set anti-climax
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The Independent Online

The Wimbledon women's trophy remained in the grasp of the Williams family for the fourth straight year yesterday as Serena retained the title by beating her older sister Venus. Since Serena has been world No 1 after winning here a year ago, the result was no surprise. What was surprising in Serena's 4-6 6-4 6-2 victory, achieved in two hours three minutes, was that Venus, hobbled by the recurrence of a strained stomach muscle injury, managed to last the distance.

Venus, whose chances of even starting the final had been assessed overnight at no more than 75 per cent by the Women's Tennis Association medical staff, battled gamely and impressively for the best part of two sets, only appearing to limp between points as she took up station on the baseline. But, having dropped serve in the first game of the final set, she called for the trainer, Karen Davis, and meandered off dejectedly for treatment, swinging a plastic water bottle from her right hand.

She eventually reappeared to make a token fight of what remained of the match, but was clearly in no physical shape to put up much resistanceand was scuppered by another service break which left Serena to complete the formality of serving out for possession of the Venus Rosewater Dish and a cheque for £535,000.

At the presentation ceremony Venus, the winner in 2000 and again in 2001, admitted she ought not to have played. "I came out because I thought the fans deserved a final," she said, to loud applause from the Centre Court audience. "That's why I was out here." She later elaborated about this determination. "If it wasn't the Wimbledon final the chances of me playing probably would have gone down. But it was definitely up to me whether to play. No one put any pressure on me. But I'd like to be rid of this pretty soon. I don't want to have to deal with more of this at the US Open."

Venus described the injury as "sharp pain" and added: "I couldn't stretch too much but I wanted to complete the match once I stepped on court." So the family set-to that used to be called the Grand Slam series continued, interrupted only by the French Open final, where neither of the Williamses made it. They both made the four before that, though, and Serena won all of them. With the top of her left thigh heavily strapped, it seemed Venus might be crucially handicapped but in true, sisterly fashion Serena directed all the volleys and smashes straight at Big Sis during the warm-up session, ensuring she would not be required to undertake sudden sideways movements.

When play began for real, however, all bets were off. But Venus raised eyebrows in the crowd and a sigh or two of exasperation from the 21-year-old Serena as she struck some impressively heavy ground strokes and even broke serve to love in the second game with a pair of winners and then a dipping forehand which induced a netted forehand volley from Serena.

The second serve was the Venus giveaway, frequently being looped over the net at speeds in the 80mph range. These were sometimes driven back past her but frequently were not as the champion struggled to synchronise her big guns. Serena was guilty of slack, even careless shots, sprayed all over the place, and when Venus went 3-0 up with another love game, comments about family conspiracy theories and sympathy votes did not seem too wide of the mark.

Serena pulled herself together sufficiently to hold serve only after fighting off four break points in a game of six deuces, but the length of this game, and the punishing rallies it contained, probably marked the beginning of the end for Venus as a contender capable of turning tables against all the odds.

But Venus did hang together long enough to capture the opening set, which said less for her grit than Serena's inaccuracy. She did it, moreover, soon after doubling up in pain when walloping a backhand winner, by holding serve confidently and then breaking Serena to take the set in 43 minutes, though the titleholder did not help her cause much by perpetrating her first double-fault and then, at set point down, floating a drop shot wide.

The occasional screams being uttered by Venus early in the second set were, one hoped, the sounds of battle rather than pain. Perhaps they were yells of dismay as Serena broke in the opening game with a sumptuous forehand. She was back to what was, alas, normal service in the next game, double-faulting on successive points to gift Venus a break.

Thus the second set proceeded on its weird course. Five of the match's eight breaks of serve came in this set, interspersed with some pulsating rallies. Serena went 5-1 in front before Venus began to motor again, seizing three successive games to get the crowd murmuring in hope that Venus could still pull off a win against all odds. Serena stilled that particular dream by holding to level the match at set-all with one hour 26 minutes played.

The final had already lasted longer than could have been hoped. Value for ticket money had, more or less, been given, but things looked bleak when Venus signalled for assistance after dropping serve at the start of the third set. After she had departed the court, the referee Alan Mills entered and stood, walkie-talkie in hand, in front of the umpire's chair, ready to receive, and perhaps pass on, any bad news from the treatment room. Eventually Venus came back but the appearance, though praiseworthy, was futile. For the fifth successive Grand Slam final featuring the Williamses, Serena was the winner.