High-five Venus over the moon
Sunday 06 July 2008
In the end, it was Big Sister who had the last say. At 28, Venus Williams came on to Centre Court yesterday having won six, exactly half of her previous Grand Slam finals, while Serena, her 26-year-old "little" sister, strictly in terms of years only, had won eight out of 10. No argument, then, about who has been the more successful Williams. But no argument, either, about who deserved to win this time, as Venus swept home 7-5 6-4 in an hour and 51 minutes, pulling away confidently and athletically after a nervous and indecisive start.
The dismal Jimmys (and Jennys) who talk of an arranged result whenever these two meet, were confounded. If such an agreement had been so, surely it would have gone the distance, three full-blown sets. But from the moment she hit town two- and-a-half weeks ago, Venus has been confident of collecting her fifth Wimbledon title, a total which leaves her with one fewer than her idol, Billie-Jean King, one of five former Grand Slam winning women watching from the Royal Box yesterday.
It was the 16th time the sisters had met, the last time being bizarrely in Bangalore, call centre of the world, in March this year. Serena took that one 7-6 in the third, dominating as she had done on much bigger occasions. Serena's two Wimbledon wins, 2002 and 2003, were over Venus, who had to go back to the US Open seven years ago to claim a win over Little Sis in a major final. Now the score is eight wins each, but that number five is the one Venus is clinging to this weekend, the fifth time she has wrapped her arms around the aptly-named Venus Rosewater Dish which is the symbol of supremacy in the world of women's tennis.
Their coach and father, Richard, had departed on Friday for their Florida home, announcing that his job was done. As Serena pointed out, "He knew a Williams would win", and she continued that theme at the post-match presentations: "I'm so happy that one of us was able to win."
When she picked up her fourth Wimbledon last year with a straightforward demolition of Marion Bartoli, Venus' joy was unconfined, with whoops and leaps. This time such extravagance did not seem appropriate. There was a small hug by the umpire's chair for the loser and a quiet walk back on to court, one arm raised and a smile which looked suspiciously like one of disbelief to acknowledge the cheers of an audience who had been behind her from the start.
It has all been a remarkable turn-around from their childhood days when Richard Williams did not permit his daughters to play against each other. Perhaps that was why he decided not to watch yesterday.
Venus sported a visor as protection against the sun, while Serena favoured a bandana, but it was the wind which proved more of a problem, particularly to the high service toss of Venus. This could not be blamed for the fact that having won the toss and chosen to serve, Venus was spectacularly broken by a sister who came off the starting grid in the manner of a Formula One racer. Whenever Venus failed to land her first serve, the second was ripped back past her. So much for talk of an arranged result. Serena was on the warpath, though without, so far, any of her screeches of triumph.
Slowly, but very surely, Venus fought her way back from that disastrous opening game, though it was not until she started to move forward and away from the baseline, a once-green patch of Wimbledon's real estate reduced to the colour of Southend beach at low tide, that she began to prosper.
First, she had to produce a beautiful, angled volley to fight off a break point which would have put Serena 4-1 in front as the exchanges continued to be of a brutal rather than elegant nature, as if inspired by the example of Rafael Nadal.
Suddenly, Venus broke back to 4-4, profiting from the first indications that Serena's supercharged start would not last as the younger Williams' backhand went walkabout. Even so, Venus needed to save another pair of break points to stay 5-4 ahead and it was her accelerating pace of serve which was the crucial factor. The speed of serving began to creep up into the 120mph-plus range.
Another big factor in that 5-4 game was a sisterly pact. At game point for Venus, there was a mid-rally cry of "no" from Serena and the Portuguese umpire, Carlos Ramos, ordered the point replayed. Having lost the point, Serena continued to walk to her chair. Point taken, so to speak.
With the near-certainty of a tiebreak looming, Serena's tank began to run low, the wheels turning with less conviction. Serving to stay in it at 5-6, she faced set point after a netted backhand and did not help her cause with a serve that trundled over the net at 90 miles an hour. Venus swatted it back with a lot of added pace and Serena's backhand was again not quite up to the job.
In the opening game of the second set Venus, at last on terms with her ball toss, hammered in a serve at 129mph, equalling her world record set at the US Open last year and very much a new Wimbledon women's speed mark too. What transpired to be Serena's last stand came in the third game, a marathon of 14 minutes and seven deuces which Serena eventually clinched on her seventh break point. It should have been a platform for seizure of the second set. Instead, creakiness set in, she dropped her own delivery in the very next game and thereafter was not at the races.
In the end Venus, the slower away from that start grid, found a higher gear altogether. Serving to stay in the match at 4-5 proved beyond a labouring Serena. Racing to the net, Venus put away a backhand to set up double Championship point. Serena saved one with her ninth ace but then her errant backhand let her down again and Big Sis had won the day.
The sisters, who have been sharing a house near Wimbledon's courts, rubbished any suggestions that they would not communicate before the final. "We were just encouraging each other at breakfast," said Venus. "We always eat lunch at breakfast to stay fuelled and we were telling each other, 'This is the last time.' " But chumminess did not extend to the trip to the All England Club. They travelled in separate courtesy cars.
Venus agreed that her celebration was necessarily muted because of who she had beaten. "You can never detract from winning Wimbledon, but I was definitely thinking about how my sister was feeling. At no point in the match could I ever forget that it was Serena I was playing. I have a lot of respect for her game, something it is impossible to forget."
Asked if she planned to attempt to match Martina Navratilova's Wimbledon record of nine titles, Venus said: "Oh my God, that would be the ultimate. Her career spanned three decades. I am not sure I have that much time. Tennis is big business now, the pressures are different." And what did she plan to do once she got home? "I can't wait to see my dog, that little guy is my favourite. And also I am going to take a break from eating five meals a day."
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