American Beauty: Venus Subdues Serena To Win Fifth Wimbledon By Tennis Week
Saturday, July 05, 2008
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Venus joined Navratilova and Graf as the only women to win Wimbledon five times in the Open Era. © Getty Images
<SPAN class=imageNav style="DISPLAY: inline; BACKGROUND: #fff; FLOAT: left; WIDTH: 223px">The synchronized shots suggested a shared exchange of anticipated action — a running dialogue between two sisters who have conducted a career-long conversation of crackling rallies.
Twenty years of sparring against her best friend, toughest rival and baby sister not only provides Venus Williams a sense of where sister Serena will be on court it gives her the guidance of knowing precisely where she needs to be going in order to invoke the last word in those explosive exchanges.
Moving as if powered by some internal map quest, Venus was often one step ahead of her Serena on pivotal points and she used prescient play, volatile power and unerring persistence to reassert her role as big sister and Wimbledon winner.
On a wind-swept, sunny Centre Court, the sisters staged a ferocious fight that was the higest-quality of their seven Grand Slam final showdowns as Venus showed her competitive spirit in subduing Serena 7-5, 6-4 to capture her fifth career Wimbledon championship.
A Williams sister has won seven of the last nine Wimbledon finals and after Venus added another in their growing garden of Grand Slam silveware to decorate their shared Palm Beach Gardens, Florida home, her thoughts turned to her sister.
"I have to first say great match to Serena. I can't believe it's five, but when you're in the final against Serena Williams five seemed so far away on the first point," Venus said. "She played a great match, it was really a tough test to beat her. It's so rewarding to perform here and that I every time I come back I have the chance to play well and make history."
Stretching her Wimbledon win streak to 14 matches, the seventh-seeded Williams solidified her status as this generation's premier grass-court champion in collecting her fifth Wimbledon championship joining Martina Navratilova (nine titles) and Steffi Graf (seven titles) as the only women in the Open Era to raise the Rosewater Dish five times. Navratilova and Billie Jean King were among the many Hall of Famers on hand to witness a magnificent match between the sisters, whose head-to-head series now stands at 8-8.
Firecracker forehands erupted in one of the most exciting exchanges of the match — a 23-shot, high-volume, baseline barrage of cross-court blasts crackling like a lit fuse — until Serena missed the mark beyond the baseline. Venus reached back and blistered a biting serve into the body that rattled Serena's black Wilson frame and trickled wide as big sister moved to within a game of the title with a 5-4 lead.
Serena fell behind 15-30 and on a second serve a predatory Venus was prepared to pounc. A tame drop shot attempt from Serena sat up and on the 11th shot of the rally Venus raced forehand and swung a backhand winner down the line to reach double championship point.
Serena was not done yet.
Slicing an ace out wide she saved the first championship point.
On the second, Serena went for the ace wide and missed offering Venus yet another second serve.
And this time there was no reprieve: when Serena's backhand sailed wide, it was over and the sisters met at net to engage in an embrace.
Venus, who has turned tennis' most precious piece of turf into a tennis trampoline jumping up and down for joy after winning the Rosewater Dish in the past, wore a wide smile after today's final, but was a bit more muted in her celebration out of respect for her sister.
"My first job is big sister: I take that very seriously," Venus said, adding "It was tough out there especially in the wind, especially playing Serena. Especially for such a close match. I love winning, but I realize one of us has to win and one of us has to lose. I've been on that losing end many times so I guess it was my time."
When Serena calls Venus "the toughest opponent out there" it isn't lip service. Against any other woman in the world, several of Serena's drives would have been winners. Serena can dictate most rallies once she forces her opponent on the run, but big sister's long strides, expansive reach, sheer speed and accuracy while extend means Venus can hit such lethal line shots while on the run she can create even greater angles with her running replies.
It was a bitterly disappointing defeat for Serena, who played intelligent and impeccable tennis in tearing through the first four games to construct a 3-1 lead. She was one point — and one dramatic net cord — from seizing a double break and stretching her first-set lead to 4-1, but it did happen and Venus responded with her most tenacious tennis of the tournament leaving little sister to ponder missed opportunities.
"She was a little bit better today; it didn't work out the way I planned," Serena said. "I'm so happy at least one of us was able to win. Venus played great. We're just glad to be back in the finals again. We hope for it to keep happening."
The match was a master class in how to play pressure points with a major championship on the line. Th reigning champion silenced the skeptics who questioned her ability to defend her title when she arrived at the All England Club with a subpar 14-7 record on the season before roaring through the fortnight in reeling off seven straight wins without dropping a set.
It was her two most suspect shots — her second serve and forehand — that were the key strokes to her 14th consecutive Wimbledon win. Venus won 19 of the 34 of the points played on her second serve (56 percent), while Serena, who possesses one of the most varied and penetrating second serves in the sport, wilted beneath Venus' onslaught of vicious returns in winning just 5 of 22 points played on her second serve (23 percent).
In their two prior Wimbledon finals, Venus suffered from a strained abdominal in the second and victimized by tenuous moments in the first, this time she played bold tennis on the biggest points when it mattered most. That aggressive mind-set never wavered and empowered Venus throughout the match.
"It was about the serve and who was able to return more serves," Venus said. "We both have different approaches to our second serve: I just like the speed. I just hit it. She's got a lot more kick."
Kick-starting her quest for a ninth Grand Slam singles title, Serena opened the match lashing a forehand winner down the line and two points later struck successive stinging forehands down the line to earn triple-break point.
Venus saved the first, but Serena abruptly extinguished a nine-ball rally blasting a backhand winner crosscourt to break at 15.
Putting more air under her forehand to ensure net clearance, Serena swatted a forehand winner crosscourt, came to net behind a forehand approach and snapped a slick forehand volley winner for 40-0. She held at love in a commanding start that saw her win eight of the first nine points.
Serena joked about "sabotaging" Venus by eating all the Wheaties in the pre-match breakfast, but it was her ability to gobble up the pace her big sister spat at her that saw her dominate the first four games.
Physicality is Venus' most obvious imposing asset on court, but she's matured from a big-hitter into an astute match player adept at making adjustments on the fly. Playing sharper angles in the third game, Venus followed a 116 mph serve down the T by teeing off on a forehand down the line. Serena, anticipating the shot before it was struck, moved to the spot by Venus read her reply and bent low to knock a forehand volley into the open court.
Venus came in behind a tame approach, centered behind the net. Serena blasted a backhand, but Venus stood her ground and blocked a backhand volley into the open court to get on the board.
The fifth game provided a pivotal point in the set.
Greeting a 117 mph serve that seared into her hip with punishing intention, Serena pounded a backhand winner down the line to move to within one point of a 4-1 lead. Realizing she had to attack, Venus raced to net behind a forehand and leaned low to scoop a forehand volley off her shoelaces, lifting a a cross court that clung to the sideline like metal to a magnet.
On the next point, Serena again blasted a backhand return down the line that seemed destined for a date with the back wall, but fortunate favored her sister.
A lunging Venus flicked a full-stretch one-handed backhand, the ball collided with the top of the tape and dribbled over like a single drop of water plopping out of a clogged faucet and that bit of good fortune helped her hold for 2-3.
Serving at 4-3, Serena's first double fault — just her 11th double fault of the fortnight — dropped her to 30-all. Pushed back by a bold Venus return, Serena sprayed a backhand wide off her back foot to face her first break point. Kicking a serve wide to send Venus off the court, she flattened a forehand into the open court to draw even at deuce. Venus earned a second break point and crushed a mammoth return that Serena could not control and suddenly a match which Serena had stamped with her authority was even at 4-all.
Venus sliced a 100 mph ace — her first ace of the match — wide for 30-15. The ensuing exchange was one of the best of the first set as the sisters cracked crosscourt forehands before Serena drew the short ball and slammed a smash for 30-all. Moving diagonally to her right in anticipation of a second serve to her forehand, Serena got exactly what she expected and fired a forehand return winner to earn break point.
Once again, she was one point from seizing a lead, but Serena did not do enough with a backhand drop volley though and Venus, swooping in from behind the baseline, swatted a running forehand pass down the line to draw to deuce. Venus earned a game point, but was victimized by a flurry of forehands from her sister. She saved a second break point with a forehand that knocked Serena into a split.
Two points later Serena, believing her backhand would go wide, yelled "out!" in frustration. Chair umpire Carlos Ramos immediately called a let but Serena, whose scream prompted the let call, conceded the point and the sisters sat down after the longest game of the match with Venus holding a 5-4 lead.
Serving to stay in the set at 5-6, Serena got caught drifting behind the baseline and was reduced to berating herself after floating a backhand long to fall behind 0-30. She responded with a 121 mph missible and a blocked backhand volley winner.
Paying the price for a shorter second serve, Serena's stretched backhand met its demise in the net to hand Venus set point.
Determined to stamp her authority on the rally with her return, Venus cracked a return and a scrambling Serena sent a backhand into the middle of the net dropping her Wilson racquet to the grass in disgust after seeing a 4-3 lead slip away. Venus victimized Serena's second serve as younger sister won just one of nine points played on her second serve in the first set.
Loosening her right arm up as the match progressed, Venus crushed a 129 mph serve — the fastest women's serve ever recorded at Wimbledon — after staving off a break point to hold in the opening game of the second set.
The third game was an absolute epic spanning 20 points in which Venus withstood seven break points and two knock downs casued when she lost her footing behind the baseline. Serena won the game when a back-pedaling Venus toppled to to turf and landed on the back of her skirt beyind the baseline, but that war of wills seemed to sap some of her strength.