One match, three winners as finalists show unforgettable fire in the heat of battle

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The Independent Online

There was Venus Williams, of course, who regained the title she won in 2000 and 2001 after a great match.

Lindsay Davenport was also a winner for me, and I don't mean that in a schmaltzy, "Hey, let's be nice about Lindsay because she lost" kind of way. I mean it because she played like a champion out there. That forced Venus to show us what she was made of, and led to a memorable battle.

Lindsay also conducted herself like a champion afterwards. She didn't blame her back problem. In fact she said it wasn't a factor. And she gave Venus the credit she was due, while also not being afraid of giving herself some praise, too.

"I feel like I played great," Lindsay said. "There's not many times when I feel like I've played well and I haven't won. So that's where I have to give Venus a lot of credit."

I agree with all of that.

The third winner was tennis. Before the Championships many of us believed that it could be Justine Henin-Hardenne's year, and if not her then maybe Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova or another Russian. I also said that Lindsay and the Williams sisters could never be discounted. But to see Venus and Lindsay - respectively the down-on-her-luck No 14 seed, and the most unassuming world No 1 in memory - contest such an intense final was a great story to promote the game.

The story of the match was Venus digging way deep, refusing to lose, then producing big shots at important times. The 12th game of the second set - 6-5 down and with Lindsay serving for the match - was huge. Venus hit three superb winners for 40-0 and Lindsay, under pressure, hit over the baseline for game.

To reach the final, Venus gave us a physical masterclass in her semi-final against Maria. In the final she didn't hit the same consistent heights and her serving also faltered, but she proved herself to be mentally resilient.

"That's what it's all about," she said. "Stepping up on the big points, and for your opponent to know in their head that you're going to step up."

The truth is they both stepped up, and that's what made it fascinating. Who would crack, or be cracked, first? It could have gone either way. Lindsay had a match point at 5-4 in the third set, with Venus serving at 30-40. Venus saved it with a tremendous cross-court backhand winner that took power and skill but, above all, guts.

Another big moment came with Venus serving at 7-6 and 30-15 down in the third set. Lose that point and Lindsay had two more match points. Venus won it, after a gasp-inducing rally with an incredible winner. Again, that's guts. Lindsay was broken in the next game. Story over.

Here's to the winners. All of them.

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