Serena Williams escapes against childhood neighbor Haynes
By Howard Fendrich
4:01 p.m. June 21, 2005
WIMBLEDON, England – The asphalt courts at the public park where Serena Williams and Angela Haynes learned to swing a racket and the patch of grass where they engaged in a riveting Grand Slam match Tuesday are separated by thousands of miles and so much more.
Yet there they were, the seven-time major champion Williams and the unheralded Haynes, trading powerful groundstrokes and grunts. Haynes practiced beside Williams in Compton in the 1980s, looked up to her in recent years, and led her for the better part of two hours in the first round at Wimbledon.
Eventually, Williams' experience and knack for coming back – not to mention her shotmaking – were too much for the 104th-ranked Haynes in her All England Club debut. So reigning Australian Open champion Williams squeaked by with a 6-7 (12), 6-4, 6-2 victory, avoiding the sort of upset that befell French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne earlier in the day.
Just as accustomed as Williams is to rallying from big deficits in big matches, Henin-Hardenne couldn't manage it this time, losing 7-6 (8), 2-6, 7-5 to 76th-ranked Eleni Daniilidou. That made her the first French Open women's champion in 43 years to drop her opening match at Wimbledon. It also ended her 24-match winning streak, all on clay.
"Playing on clay and then coming here, it's so different," the seventh-seeded Henin-Hardenne said. "You change everything."
Williams skipped the French Open with a left ankle sprain that has sidelined her since May 11. She called her play against Haynes "rusty," adding that she "kind of felt like I was feeling my way around."
It sure looked that way in the tense tiebreaker, when each player had four set points. Williams let three slip away with backhand errors, and Haynes finally grabbed the set when Williams sailed a forehand long.
Williams reacted by driving her racket into the ground and cracking the frame, drawing a warning from the chair umpire. Perhaps that moment of release helped. Or perhaps what helped was when a fan yelled, "Turn up the heat, Serena!"
Both players heard the cry, and Williams heeded it. Haynes faced a break point while serving at 4-4 in the second set, and Williams' shot was called out by a line judge, who was overruled by the chair umpire. Haynes went from thinking she was out of a jam to right back into one, and when they replayed the point, Williams hit a backhand that clipped the net and fell in for the key break. Then it was Haynes who showed frustration, picking up the ball and flinging it over the net.
Williams held serve to close that set, then broke a tiring Haynes for a 3-2 edge in the third, part of a closing five-game run.
"If I won, it could have changed my whole life," Haynes said.
Her most promising previous taste of top-tier tennis came at last year's U.S. Open, when she reached the third round as a wild card. As a toddler, Haynes would hang around while her father, Fred, taught her older siblings how to play tennis at Lynwood Park, where Richard Williams instructed his girls.
"Sometimes, we would do six, seven hours on the court, and Richard would be there before us," Fred Haynes said. "And when we got off the court, we would have to go grocery shopping, and they would still be on the court, and I'm like: Look at that."
That's when they all were dads and daughters with dreams. Nowadays, Venus is 25, Serena 23, Angela 20 – and all played on the same Wimbledon court Tuesday.
"It says a lot for Compton," Richard Williams said.
"Just to see my kid walk on Wimbledon grass courts, it's like: Wow, we're here. Not satisfied, but we're here," Fred Haynes said.
Back when the Williams sisters were playing final after final against each other in the majors, it would have been a bit out of the ordinary to see them play on Court 2 at the All England Club, a step below the more prestigious Centre Court and Court 1.
Venus – the 2000-01 Wimbledon champion but seeded merely 14th this year – had a much easier time, defeating Eva Birnerova 6-2, 6-4. The court has become known as "The Graveyard of Champions" because of a litany of upsets; Pete Sampras lost his last Wimbledon match there in 2002's second round, for example.
"It didn't enter my mind," Serena said, "because I just felt that I had to be better than the myths."
She showed the determination she has many times, including comebacks at the Australian Open in the semifinals against Maria Sharapova (a straight-set winner Tuesday) and in the final against Lindsay Davenport.
It was something Angela Haynes came to expect and admire back when she and the Williams family lived 15 minutes apart and her brother, now a tennis player at San Diego State, played with Serena.
"She did not want to lose. She doesn't care who you were," Haynes said.
Henin-Hardenne didn't play a match between claiming her fourth Slam title at Roland Garros and coming to Wimbledon, in part because of a right hamstring injury, and in part because she's committed to taking extra rest after a virus sidelined her in 2004.
Henin-Hardenne double-faulted 11 times, twice in the final game.
"Everyone is a little shaky at times during a match," Daniilidou said. "Today, I was a little bit better with that."
Much is made of the tough transition from clay to grass, with a two-week turnaround between the French Open and Wimbledon. Balls skid on grass, and strategic decisions must be made in a snap. On clay, there's more time to react.
"Everything that you see on clay, you take the opposite of it, and that's what you get on grass," said Andy Roddick, who eliminated Jiri Vanek 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Rafael Nadal, the 19-year-old Spaniard who won the French Open in his debut, got off to a solid start at Wimbledon, a 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Vince Spadea, whose bothersome back was massaged twice by a trainer during the second set.