More magic brings Venus another title
Remarkable turnaround in her game began after 3rd round, lasted to final
Olivier Hoslet / EPA
After the first week at Wimbledon Venus Williams found her form, and her superb play in the second week was the key to her capturing a fourth title at the grasscourt major, writes Tracy Austin of MSNBC.com.
By Tracy Austin
Updated: 9 minutes ago
LONDON - The most amazing thing about Venus Williams winning her fourth Wimbledon title was that she experienced two distinctly different tournaments during her two weeks in London.
During the first week Venus looked shaky and vulnerable in her first and third round matches. On the first Saturday of the fortnight she was down 5-3 in the third set against Akiko Morigami, ranked 71st in the world. She broke Morigami’s serve at love in the ninth game, and that proved a huge turning point for her -- not only in the third-round match but in the major.
Venus had rediscovered her championship form. The dominance in her game was back. After beating Morigami 7-5 in the deciding third set, Venus played three points on Court 3 against Maria Sharapova in the fourth round when the rains came. The rest of the way Venus was on Centre Court, and she was unbeatable and close to invincible. She did away with the second-seeded Sharapova, fifth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, sixth-seeded Ana Ivanovic, and then a surprising finalist in the No. 18 seed Marion Bartoli. She didn't drop a set in any of those matches.
It is incredible that Venus played so totally different from one week to the next in the same tournament. It was something very rare and very special, and it showed the extraordinary gift Venus has for reversing the course of her game not over the span of a few matches, but from one match to the next. The only other player I've seen who is able to pull off such a magical reversal of form is someone very close to Venus -- her younger sister Serena.
Two distinct advantages for Venus
Venus missed the Australian Open with a wrist injury, and with her limited play this year she came to Wimbledon ranked No. 31 and seeded No. 23. There was a silver lining to that low of a seed as there was little pressure on the American to do well in London. At one point the local bookmakers had her as a 100-1 shot to win Wimbledon.
When Venus gets tight she loses hold of her serve and her forehand. But with little expected of her she played loose and those two elements of her game not only stayed on form, they became weapons that were just too much for her opponents to handle. Take it from Bartoli who said that Venus' first serve -- sometimes as fast as 120 mph -- actually brought pain to the wrist of her French opponent when she struck her returns.
What certainly helped Venus become commanding in her performances was her move to Centre Court, which began with the resumption of her match against Sharapova. The only player to have ever beaten Venus on Centre Court is Serena. Venus feeds off the fabulous memories of her special victories on this plot of grass so special in tennis lore. She loves not only the grass surface, but also the atmosphere of Centre Court. And her past Centre Court wins had to give her encouragement that she could win the Wimbledon title again.
Venus on grass is trouble for her opponents. She and Serena are among the few players on tour that are comfortable on the surface. They seem to even enjoy playing on it. The lawns may draw frowns from other players, but they draw smiles from the Williams. And Venus on Centre Court, well it's obvious by now when that happens the player on the other side of the net has been dealt a challenge that is quite difficult if not nearly impossible to overcome.
Sweet memories of 2005
So twice in her career Venus has come to Wimbledon pretty much overlooked as a top contender for the title. It happened in 2005 and again this year. Her title two years ago was the most surprising as it came out of nowhere. Let’s be honest, a lot of people had written Venus off by the eve of Wimbledon 2005. Many figured it was highly doubtful she would ever win another major.
She arrived in London without having played a grasscourt warm-up tournament -- nothing new for her. But she was coming off a third-round loss at the French Open to Sesil Karatantcheva, who was ranked No. 98 in the world. She lost the deciding set to Karatantcheva 6-1. Reasons for optimism for Venus at that Wimbledon -- there were none. But all she did in 2005 was battle her way to the final where she survived a match point against Lindsay Davenport and went on to take the title match, 4-6, 7-6(4), 9-7.
At No. 14 Venus became the lowest ranked player to win Wimbledon in the Open Era, and her 2005 championship at the All-England Club was career altering. It put into Venus' mind the memory of her pulling off what so many others said couldn't be done. She proved to herself she could succeed no matter how great the odds against her. The kind of confidence she gained, she will never lose.
This year even though Venus was seeded No. 23, she -- at least to me -- had an outside shot at again achieving the goal she stated in a text message to Serena after younger sister won the Australian Open -- she was going to win Wimbledon. That text message proved prophetic. And Venus broke her own record of being the lowest seeded player to capture the grasscourt major.
Too much game for Bartoli
The key factor in deciding the 2007 final is that Venus is just better in all facets of the game than Bartoli. But give a lot of credit to the Frenchwoman -- she had never played seven matches at a tournament before, came up with the match of her life in beating world No. 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals, and she had so many more activities, such as press responsibilities, than she is used to that Wimbledon became physically and mentally draining on her.
Venus certainly wasn’t running away with the match when they were at 4-all in the first set. But she stepped it up a gear and that made a difference. Venus is a sensational offensive player with her big serve and massive groundstrokes and that does at times make us forget she has a pretty good defensive game. She certainly tracked down a lot of Bartoli’s balls, which caused the Frenchwoman to over hit on shots.
Bartoli told us how tough it is against Venus when after the match she said, "(Venus) reached some balls like I never see one person reach some ball like that on a tennis court, and she would even hit it harder back to me." That's what the Frenchwoman was looking at all match. That's what Sharapova, Kuznetsova, and Ivanovic were looking at. Not a pretty sight for any of them.
Where does Bartoli go from here? Her Wimbledon showing will place her very near the top 10 at No. 11 so she is close to being one of the elite. But she does need to find a consistency with her game. It’s unlikely that she’s going to constantly pull out performances like she did against Henin, but she should be going past the first couple of rounds at tournaments on a regular basis. In the big picture, however, I don’t believe that she will one day win a major.
Looking towards the Big Apple
Venus will revel in this sensational championship she's won, but when things settle down, she’ll be focusing on the U.S. Open in New York later this summer, a major she captured in 2001 and 2000. It would be good for her to play two or three tournaments in the eight weeks between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
As her last few matches in London showed, there’s nothing glaringly out of sorts with her game at the moment, she just has to concentrate on her execution. She knows when she struggles that the second serve and the forehand go off, but she can’t practice that because it’s about execution at the moment.
Venus would serve herself well if she could get into the top-16 seeds for the U.S. Open so she could avoid having to meet players like Sharapova in the fourth round. After winning the Wimbledon title her ranking should go up to No. 17.
Does she have a chance to win the U.S. Open? Of course she does for if there is one thing Venus has shown in her career it's that she should never be counted out at a major. She says she's a big-match player, and she has the results to back up that assertion.
© 2007 MSNBC Interactive