Williams rolls back the years to dethrone golden Sharapova

We were wrong, certainly in the case of Venus Williams, the elder sister. Yesterday, she put all her past injury woes behind her and gave one of the great performances on Centre Court in defeating Maria Sharapova, the defending champion, 7-6, 6-1, to advance to tomorrow's women's singles final.

After an afternoon of rain delays, the spectators were treated to a marvellous contest, one that was never quite as one-sided as the score may suggest. Even towards the end, in rapidly fading light, the two women were producing rallies of the highest quality. Some of their drives brought gasps from the crowd almost as loud as the squealing and grunting of the players.

Williams won because not only had she prepared herself superbly for the match but also she was willing to chase down and return some of Sharapova's best shots.

The 18-year-old Russian, who defeated the younger Williams sister, Serena, in breathtaking style in last year's final, was not going to give up the title lightly. Unfortunately for her, she encountered Venus Williams on a day when the 25-year-old American reproduced the form she showed when winning the title in 2000 and 2001.

Sharapova, while lamenting her own display – "I don't think I played my best tennis – gave Williams credit for making her err on crucial points: "She hit a lot of hard, deep balls. She was serving consistently big."

Though both players had chances early, Williams' power and determination were the more obvious. After failing to convert any of three break points in the second game she broke for 4-2.

Sharapova saved the first of two break points against her in that sixth game with a backhand cross-court drive. Williams then lured her to the net before passing her with a cross-court forehand to create the second opportunity, securing this one when her opponent netted a backhand after a lively rally of angled drives.

Serving for the set at 5-3, however, Williams was denied on two set points. She hit a backhand long on the first and Sharapova intercepted a forehand volley with a forehand half-volley cross-court shot to erase the second.

When the set went to a tie-break, the sun peeked out for a moment as if in tribute to the skill and effort on show. Williams dominated the shoot-out, 7-2, with Sharapova hitting a backhand long on the third set point after 62 minutes.

Sharapova lost her serve to love at the start of the second set, but forced Williams to save two break points in the next game. Williams broke again for 4-1, with Sharapova clipping the net cord on the concluding point of the game.

The sixth game brought Sharapova her last chance to get into the match. She created two break points, first with a magnificent drive for 30-40, then with a brilliant service return. Williams was equal to the challenge, saving the first break point with a backhand volley and then serving well enough on the second for Sharapova to miss her return.

By this time, with the light worsening, Sharapova was unable to resist Williams' advance to the final.

The Russian had two game points in the concluding game. The first came after Williams had hit a backhand wide on her first match point at 30-40. Having gained advantage, Sharapova served a double-fault. A forehand drive to the baseline after a second serve took Sharapova to advantage again. This time she hit a backhand wide after Williams had returned her serve.

Williams secured her second match point, striking the ball with sufficient power to cause Sharapova to hit a backhand wide across the court.

What followed was a scene reminiscent of previous years of Williams domination. The victor did several jumps for joy and waved her racket. She then pointed towards her parents in the players' guest box before executing a series of twirls in the twilight.

Sharapova, obviously disappointed, packed her rackets while her opponent paraded on centre stage, but then waved to an appreciative crowd before both players left the court.

"I put tennis first in my life," Williams said afterwards. "I wake up in the morning, go to practise, go to the gym, train, and give my best effort. The other things that I do are because it makes me happy. I think it complements my tennis and also makes me work harder, because I realise it's not easy in the real world. But I think my world is also as real as it gets."

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