Venus draws on backhand power in dramatic comeback over Raymond

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The Independent Online

The careers of the Williams sisters have long followed parallel paths and for a time here yesterday it seemed that Venus was about to provide a mirror image of Serena's sorry exit from the Championships 12 months ago.

Serena went out in the third round to an unheralded fellow American in Jill Craybas, a 31-year-old veteran of the women's tour. Craybas, ranked No 85 in the world, won in straight sets, a match which could prove to have been Serena's last at Wimbledon.

In yesterday's second round, Venus came up against another American journeywoman, 32-year-old Lisa Raymond. The world No 84 came within two points of victory when she reached 30-30 while serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set. Venus, however, suddenly pulled herself together, won 10 of the next 12 games and took the match, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2.

The course of the match was generally dictated by the state of Williams's serve. She won 90 per cent of the points in which her booming first serve went in, but whenever she faltered Raymond sensed her chance. The number of winners also told its own story - Williams hit 49 to Raymond's 13 - as the champion went for her shots while the underdog's best chances came from her rival's mistakes.

To describe Raymond as a journeywoman is probably unfair, for she has become one of the world's best doubles players. Ranked No 2 in the world, she has won 56 titles with a variety of partners. Her latest victory was with Samantha Stosur at the French Open earlier this month.

As a singles player Raymond has finished in the world's top 100 every year since 1992, but she has won only four minor tournaments, the last of them at Memphis three years ago. She achieved her highest world ranking, No 15, nine years ago and in 42 appearances at Grand Slam tournaments has reached just two quarter-finals, in Australia in 2004 and Wimbledon in 2000. She made her Grand Slam debut in New York in 1989 and this is her 14th Wimbledon.

Although Williams had not played particularly well in the first set a surprise did not seem on the cards until Raymond's confidence grew as her opponent's form dipped in the tie-break. Raymond went to set point with a smart forehand volley and converted it when Williams put a forehand into the net.

At 2-3 in the second set Williams went to pieces. She opened with her first double fault of the match and then handed the game to Raymond with a series of wild forehands, which she duplicated in the next game. When two points from defeat, however, a stunning backhand cross-court winner seemed to revive her spirits. Raymond promptly put a forehand into the net and her chance was gone.

After winning the next three games to take the set, Williams raced into a 4-0 lead with a succession of winners as Raymond's spirit seemed broken. When she finally won a game, the 32-year-old raised her arms in an air in mock celebration. Three games later Williams secured victory with an ace, beamed at the crowd and did a pirouette beside the umpire's chair.

Considering the manner of her triumph here last year you learn never to write off Williams, who may be once again timing her run to the Wimbledon finish line to perfection. After an injury-interrupted winter and spring, she has played three tournaments since starting her comeback last month and reached the quarter-finals of the French Open.

Williams was the lowest seeded player (No 14) ever to win the women's title here, a record which she took from the previous year's winner, Maria Sharapova, who was seeded at No 13. Like Williams, the Russian has come to the All England Club short of matches after injury problems, but unlike the American she had little trouble in her second-round match yesterday.

Having dropped only two games in sweeping aside Anna Smashnova in the first round, Sharapova beat the unseeded American Ashley Harkleroad, 6-2, 6-2. Although the win took only 16 minutes longer than her previous day's victory, Sharapova thought it had provided a better test.

"I didn't think I had enough of a challenge to see where my game was at in the first round," Sharapova said. "The points were very quick. But today I played a few rallies and I definitely did a lot of good things."