All-Williams final still gives fuel to conspiracy theorists

Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 05 July 2008 00:00
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Richard Williams took his leave of the 122nd All England Championships yesterday, flying home to Florida. Curious timing, given that his daughters will be contesting their third Wimbledon singles final here today – not to mention seeking their third doubles title later in the afternoon. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, rather than getting back, the man who has guided and coached Venus and Serena to positions of dominance at the annual gathering in SW19 was getting away.

Following the unguarded comments of Elena Dementieva after her semi-final defeat by Venus, in which she maintained that the destiny of the Venus Rosewater Dish would be "a family decision", speculation has flared anew over the likely competitive intensity of a meetings between two players who have already won six of the last eight Wimbledon titles between them.

A hasty press release made it clear that, in the manner of that other noted blonde, Hillary Clinton, Dementieva had "misspoken". In the press conference following their straightforward doubles semi-final win yesterday, however, the Williams sisters were patently uneasy about the question that hovered unspoken behind so many of the politely probing questions.

Venus, who had already declared suggestions of any collusion between herself and her younger sibling to be "pretty offensive", confirmed that her father had gone home, adding - somewhat confusingly – "He always tries to give us the best of advice, so I'm sure he said something to Serena, I guess. She didn't tell me, but basically he's coach all the way through."

Asked to volunteer any information about her father's parting message, Serena responded: "He said he did his job, and his job was done, so I guess he's feeling good. No matter what happens he's for sure going to be a winner."

In a sense, of course, she was right. Having beaten Venus on the two previous occasions where they have met in the Wimbledon singles final, Serena appears to have history on her side. But Venus has won four times to her two, and has defended her title thus far without losing a set.

Serena played yesterday with a heavy bandage on the top of her left leg, but maintained afterwards that she had had "no problems". That said, she had rarely needed to stretch herself in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the unseeded French/Australian pairing of Nathalie Dechy and Casey Dellacqua which roused spectators on No.1 court to a state of mild approbation.

At times, the size and power of the two former denizens of South Central Los Angeles, both roaring into their shots like lionesses, proved simply overwhelming to opponents who seemed, quite simply, to be built on a smaller scale.

At other times, however, wildly misplaced efforts, from Serena in particular, offered evidence that neither of the prospective singles finalists was bringing to bear their full concentration on a match that lasted just two minutes beyond the hour. Of course they were there to win, and win they did. But it was a bit like watching Arsenal in the League Cup.

After securing her place in the singles final with victory over China's Zheng Jie, Serena had joked : "We are going to stop talking to each other now." Yesterday's win offered plentiful evidence that such was not the case as the sisters formed a huddle on a regular basis.

Quite why they felt the need to communicate with hands masking their mouths, for all the world like conspiratorial courtiers, was a mystery. Their task, against a pair who only occasionally repudiated their status as Miss Cannon and Miss Fodder, hardly required such intensity. Perhaps the sisters were consulting over which DVD to watch together once they had made the short trip back to the house they have rented for the duration of the Championships.

As she contemplated what will be her first grand slam match against her sister since 2005, when Venus defeated her to earn a place in the US Open quarter-final, Serena appeared bemused by questions implying that the two might become distanced from each other on the eve of battle.

"We live together, so I assume we'll be together," said Serena. "We usually travel separate, but for the most part we'll certainly be together. We're used to it. We're just excited to be in the final and we think it will be a great match."

Asked to reflect upon the prospects of meeting her sister in what will be their first major final against each other in five years, Serena added : "I think that the opponent hasn't got any easier, that's for sure. So it's going to be a battle again." Whoever proves triumphant today, a battle would certainly be welcome.

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