Serena and the power of instant recovery

Dramatic revival downs drained Davenport
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The Independent Online

Perhaps it was something to do with the closed roof, which threw a normally sun-splashed Australian Open into deep shadow, but there was a Biblical twist to a women's final featuring the lame and the halt. Having gone lame in the first few minutes, Serena Williams came roaring back as only she can to pummel Lindsay Davenport to an exhausted halt and collect her seventh Grand Slam 2-6 6-3 6-0 in a contest of bizarre swings.

Perhaps it was something to do with the closed roof, which threw a normally sun-splashed Australian Open into deep shadow, but there was a Biblical twist to a women's final featuring the lame and the halt. Having gone lame in the first few minutes, Serena Williams came roaring back as only she can to pummel Lindsay Davenport to an exhausted halt and collect her seventh Grand Slam 2-6 6-3 6-0 in a contest of bizarre swings.

Having suffered an early injury to her lower back and lost the first four games, Williams had prolonged on-court treatment, lying flat on her face, from the WTA physiotherapist Carole Doherty before heading for further repairs in the dressing room. Whatever the 12-minute stoppage did for the injury, and it was clearly of considerable benefit, it indisputably slowed Davenport's momentum.

While Serena was being tweaked, Lindsay examined her fingernails at length, and though she mopped up the first set when the action resumed, the Williams resuscitation from then on could have been mapped on a graph, heading inexorably upwards while Davenport's dipped out of sight.

The decline of the 28- year-old world No 1 was depressing, but perhaps not unexpected, as Serena revved up the counterattack. By fulfilling a promise to play doubles in Melbourne with her friend Corina Morariu, who had spent a long time out of tennis because of leukemia, Davenport ended up coming into the final having been on court in the previous two weeks for more than 16 hours, twice as long as Williams, and having lost the doubles final the previous day.

Little wonder, then, that Davenport, who played with the usual heavy strapping on a long-term left-thigh problem, was so pooped that she lost the last nine games in a row and won just six points in a final set which breezed by in 20 minutes.

"In the end I was definitely a bit fatigued," she admitted. "I had spent a lot of hours on court. But [Serena] raised her game. She started serving really well and hard. She took advantage when she had the opportunity and kept going." The ability to keep going figures large in the Williams lexicon. "I never, ever think that I have to give up, even in the most dire situations," she said. Having come on court with all the sponsors' designer accessories, the discardable leggings and dangly earrings, it seemed at first that Serena had mislaid only one thing, her game, as she served at half-pace and was twice broken.

The injury, she revealed, happened on the very first point. "I reached for a backhand and I think it tweaked my back out. For the next few games I was out of it."

So the trainer was summoned and the spectators prepared for an early termination to the occasion. But the woman who won this title two years ago and missed the tournament because of injury in both 2002 and 2004 returned with the self-declared intention of "doing a little better here."

And so it came to pass. As she tested the condition of her back, Serena still played with some caution, opting not to attempt full lift-off on the serve or her usual side-to-side lunges. An indication of improvement was that she held a first break point on the Davenport delivery at 1-4, but Lindsay marched confidently to the capture of that opening set, with a second Australian Open crown to go with the one she won in 2000 appearing inevitable.

What most people considered the key moment occurred at 2-2 in the second set when, in a tense dozen minutes, Williams fought off six break points in a game which went to deuce eight times. "I just did not want to lose that particular game," said Serena. "I was serving so many balls my arm was hurting. I said, 'I don't care if my arm falls off, I'm not going to lose this game'. I knew it was pivotal."

For Davenport, however, that was not the back-breaker. It happened, as far as she was concerned, three games later when, in what she described as "a horrible lapse", she squandered a 40-love advantage and, having offered Serena only her second break point, self-destructed with a weak double-fault. That put Lindsay on the slide at 3-5 and, in the unlikely event that she needed it, blew a gale of extra resolve into Serena's sails.

From then on the aces went thundering in, the love games piled up and the Davenport double-faults mounted. Two more aces, taking her total to 12, sent Serena surging to championship point and it was all over, even including the long time-out for treatment, in less than an hour and a half.

After being handed the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy by Margaret Court, who has won it more times than anyone else, the champion reflected on the three match points she had saved against Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals and summed up an incredible self-belief. "I just did it. Like Nike say, 'Just do it'."

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