Positive vibe is the key for Venus
Williams banishes the dark days with a third triumph completing the unlikeliest of comebacks
Stephen Bierley at Wimbledon
Monday July 4, 2005
Negativity has always been anathema in the Williams household. "We were never allowed to say that we couldn't do something, otherwise we got into trouble," said a tired but radiant Venus Williams on Saturday evening. "There are so many people who want to put you down, so many people who thrive on negativity, so many people who are excited to see a story like that."
There was no bitterness, no recriminations, no gloating. She had left her public statement on court. She was Wimbledon champion again, and all those who had suggested that the elder, more cerebral, of sisters was washed up and finished were left marvelling at her ability to confound the lot of them.
Just a few hours after she had beaten Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6, 9-7 to become the Wimbledon singles champion for the third time, and win her fifth grand slam title, just two short of her sister Serena, Williams talked quietly and purposefully about the hard times. "You keep believing, even though you are finding it difficult to do the right thing at the right moment. Some times I was a little hard on myself, while at other times I had to congratulate myself, whether I played my best or not."
All those around her, and most particularly her father, Richard, her mother, Oracene, and Serena, had always stayed ultra-positive. Not for one instant did they stop encouraging her to believe that despite a succession of injuries, dating back two years, she would eventually re-discover the form that before the emergence of her younger sister had lifted her to the pinnacle of the women's game.
The hurt has been huge, the more so because Venus has always internalised her problems. Having finally all but freed herself of injury, she arrived at the French Open last month determined to make a clear statement of intent, only to lose early against the 15-year-Bulgarian Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, then ranked No98 in the world.
Once again Williams appeared a peripheral figure on the world scene. "I think I just thought ahead too much. I knew I could win, I knew I could do it and just didn't concentrate really on the round I was in. That hurt me a lot," she admitted.
The semi-final victory here over Russia's Maria Sharapova, the reigning champion, was of immense proportions, so much so that for well into a women's final lasting 2hrs 45min - the longest ever - the mental and physical exertions of that win had clearly taken their toll.
Yet here were shades of this year's Australian Open final when Serena, having also defeated Sharapova in an equally brutal semi-final, almost succumbed to Davenport's heavy hitting.
However, on that occasion Davenport never appeared to hold the belief that she could win. Against Williams on Saturday - despite back problems in the third set - she hung tough. "But Venus was just incredible. Whenever I felt I was just about to shut the door completely it was 'Oops, let's open that back up'," Davenport said.
The sheer exuberance of Williams's post-match joy may ultimately be remembered far longer than the match which, while being compulsively dramatic in the third set, after she had saved a match point in the second, was too lacking in contrast to be labelled great.
The dichotomy in the modern women's game is that the more feminine become the fashions, and the more frothy the off-court interviews that major on shopping and clothes, so the more unbendingly powerful, not to say brittle, becomes the tennis. There is little place left for subtlety, while the increasingly number of injuries continues to be a major problem.
The question will now be asked as to whether, having won her first slam since Wimbledon 2001, Williams can win more majors. Given her performance against Sharapova and Davenport there appears no reason why she should not. "It takes a strong person to come back to winning things again. A strong will, and determination. You've seen Serena has that will, but maybe you haven't seen it in Venus because she's more quiet," said Oracene.
Unlike Serena, she does not have as many off-court distractions as some have supposed. Commercially these are limited to a small interior design firm she owns in Florida, although obviously playing tennis is not her be all and end all. "I wake up in the morning, go to practice, go to the gym, train, and give my best effort. The other things that I do are because it makes me happy. I think my world also is as real as it gets."
Venus, like Serena, will always limit the number of tournaments she plays outside the slams, although there is some irony in the fact that too often over the last two years she had tried to play through injuries, thereby re-injuring herself, and not being able to regain her form.
Apart from a shoulder problem, which apparently continued to trouble her in Paris, she has been relatively healthy this year, which has allowed her to practise properly. And that is the primary reason she won the final on Saturday.
Her family and her religion have been integral, but above all else, like her sister, Venus needed to be fit to underline what an extremely fine player she is. And women's tennis is far more exciting and vibrant for having her back at the top of their powers.
On Friday, wearing her professional cap, Williams argued forcibly on the merits of equal pay at the French Open and Wimbledon. On Saturday night, in a touchingly intimate moment, she spoke fondly of her murdered half-sister Yetunde, remembering the way she cooked fried chicken "better than my Mom" and all the laughs they had. The Williams world is a world of contrasts, and tennis is the richer for it.
The wonder of Williams
·Venus Williams is the lowest seed (14) to have won the women's singles title.
·She is only the fifth player to have won three women's singles titles in the open era - after Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.
·Williams passed career prize-money of $15m with her victory.
·No other woman has come from match point down to win Wimbledon in the open era. She is only the fourth ever to have done so. The others are Blanche Bingley Hillyard (1889), Suzanne Lenglen (1919) and Helen Wills Moody (1935).
·Only three women have had a longer wait between grand slam titles than Williams. Her three-year 10-month gap between winning the 2001 US Open and the 2005 Wimbledon is exceeded only by the delays endured by Hana Mandlikova, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Virginia Wade. The Briton had an eight-year 10-month wait between winning the 1968 US Open and the 1977 Wimbledon.