Friday, July 08, 2005

Hard Hits: Just Hire Herb Already

While the NBA draft has come and gone and the free agent signing period underway, somehow, Knicks President and GM Isiah Thomas still has not figured out that no high profile coach is coming to New York to take over the tenuous position. This past Wednesday, Larry Brown's wife Shelly proclaimed to New York Post beat writer Marc Berman that her husband would not be coming but instead hoped to return to Detroit healh permitting. Even with it looking more likely that Brown would stay in Detroit, Thomas has continued to wait, almost as if he had some sort of blind faith that the Brooklyn native would actually change his mind.

What can't be figured out is what kind of kool aid owner Jim Dolan has given Thomas to make him believe that the Knicks coaching position was appealing. It's almost as if Thomas has become as stubborn as Glen Sather was with the Ranger coaching job two summers ago. Did he actually think a big name would want to come here, knowing in advance that they'd be under the radar without full control in an almost clown-like atmosphere? Thing is Barnum and Bailey is still one of the most profitable events when they come to town. And most importantly, they don't leave fans bitter and nauseous.

Already, one of Thomas' most coveted coaching free agents, Nate McMillan accepted an offer to coach the Portland Trail Blazers. In the past, Portland has been a place where clowns often reign supreme. But McMillan decided their future was much better and worth the gamble.

Where would you rather be? With a team that has a rising star at point guard with young athletic wing players and enough room on the cap to maneuver. Or with a team that is so far maxed out on the cap due to ridiculous length of contracts with little chance of adding a good big man who could make a difference. The choice is simple.

While Thomas continues to pin his hopes on Brown, the other elite name Phil Jackson decided that returning for a sequel in Hollywood with embattled player Kobe Bryant was more lucrative than coming back to where he won two NBA championships as a player in '70 and '72. Coincidentally, those are the only two titles the Knicks have won.

With former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders all but ruled out due to how much authority he wants with any prospective employer, this doesn't leave many options.

So, what is Isiah waiting for? Herb Williams did an admirable job taking over for Lenny Wilkens. Though he only went 16-27, he came into an impossible situation with a team that was going nowhere. After an initial poor beginning, his team responded well and competed better. Williams even got something more out of "Tiny" Tim Thomas by featuring him more as a go-to guy in the post. Thomas has a reputation for being soft but under Williams, he looked rejuvenated. If Williams gets the position, maybe Thomas will continue to thrive and increase his trade value.

Williams also got Jamal Crawford to distribute the ball more, even using him at the point in the fourth quarter in place of Stephon Marbury. In those instances, Crawford led the Knicks to victories. Maybe there is hope for Crawford after all. He certainly is talented, possessing a killer crossover, unlimited range from the outside and excellent leaping ability as Knick fans will attest to his two innovative dunks off the glass. It's just Crawford becoming more disciplined and not just running and gunning. There's also other teammates and defense, something the athletic player should be able to play.

Williams preached that his team come to play every night. He demanded that they become a better defensive club and exhibit better working habits. A trademark of the old "Back To D" Knick clubs in the 90's when they often challenged for the NBA title.

Despite being treated as if he was a ragged doll, Williams continues to exude confidence and show professionalism and understanding for why the process has taken so long. When asked to comment on things during a recent Knicks Summer League Camp game in Las Vegas by MSG's Gus Johnson and John Andareise, Williams didn't take anything personally. He insisted that he was the coach of the team and planned to go forth with gameplans for the upcoming season on what he felt will work with the newest Knicks. Until proven otherwise, Herb is the coach. And given his even-keel temperament, I feel he should be given a chance to work with this young nucleus of players.

He's got more NBA experience than Thomas' old Bad Boy pal Bill Laimbeer, who coached the WNBA Detroit Sparks to a title in '03. Laimbeer would have to make a transition from coaching team oriented women to more ego-driven men, who can create chaos. While he is knowledgable and would be an authoritative type of coach, it remains to be seen if that kind of personality could work here with younger players.

So, will Isiah finally wake up from the abyss and do the right thing? It's time to give the job to the most deserving man.

Hitting Back:

-Why does Isiah have to take it so personal when it's suggested that Stephon Marbury might be on the block? Maybe if he didn't basically proclaim that nobody on the roster was untouchable, people wouldn't speculate. Especially when the Knicks are overloaded at guard.

-This Nate Robinson will energize and excite fans when he gets into games this fall. Who knows? He could even wind up being a steal as part of the Quentin Richardson deal.

-When Willie Randolph starts Aaron Heilman to close the ninth with a four run lead against the Pirates and then allows him to load the bases before putting in closer Braden Looper, it doesn't exactly show much faith in Looper. It also was an awful move by a rookie manager who is still learning on the job.

-People who blame Looper for how that game turned out are way off. Looper wasn't put into a good situation. It didn't help that Cliff Floyd tried to be Superman when all he had to do was let the ball drop in front of him, which would have kept the game from being tied.

-Having Marlon Anderson and journeyman Jose Offerman split duties at first wasn't exactly Omar Minaya's plan for success. Until his recall from Norfolk, I didn't even know Offerman still played.

-What's more stunning? The fact that rookie starter Chien-Ming Wang gives the Yankees a better chance to win than Randy Johnson or the fact that Floyd was shafted from the All-Star team while less deserving teammates Carlos Beltran and Mike Piazza were voted starters?

-Is Mariano Rivera still done?

-A-rod has been brilliant this season and deserves his starting nod at third in Detroit but how does Hideki Matsui get overlooked by his peers when he has two less RBI's? He's been every bit as clutch.

-It's nice to see Jason Giambi coming around. But to all those who wrote him off before he had reached 100 at bats without being played consistently: Did you jump the gun a little soon to kick the guy while he was down?

-Now that the Olympic fiasco is over for New York, maybe now Mayor Bloomberg and the rest of the politicians can get back to what their job entails.

-Congrats to London on what should have been a momentous occasion landing the 2012 Olympics, only a day later was ruined by angry terrorists. It's sad that this will continue to be the story but is the harsh reality of the world we live in. One day, good shall prevail over evil. I just hope I'm around to see it.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Simply InFedererable

Call him the best player since Sampras. Call him whatever you will. In a virtuoso performance fitting of an artist, Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in straight sets 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to claim his third consecutive Wimbledon championship. He became the first player since Sampras to win three in a row and now is in exclusive company with Bjorn Borg as only the third male in the Open Era to ever accomplish this feat. Fred Perry was the first to ever do it when he won the historic tournament from 1934-36.

With dominating groundstrokes and passing shots that defied logic, he dominated a very good player in Roddick. So brilliant was Federer that he hit a ridiculous 49 winners and made just 12 unforced errors for the match. An incredible ratio for a final. Sixteen of those winners came from the ground. Federer even outaced Roddick 11-7.

In the first men's final rematch at the All England Club since 1989 when Boris Becker defeated Stefan Edberg in the second of a trilogy, Federer imposed his will on Roddick early to set the tone for the match.

After both players held serve to two all, Federer took advantage of a weary Roddick in the fifth game to go up a break. Roddick, who a day earlier had to go four hard fought sets to defeat Thomas Johansson, might have been feeling the affects of that match early on. He didn't have as much zest on his deadly serve or huge forehand. Federer was able to take quick advantage and claimed the first set with ease when he broke for a second time on a looping slice backhand return crosscourt that landed just inside the line. He was so dominant that he only dropped one point on his serve and slugged 15 winners to just one error in the set.

When Federer held with ease to open the second set, it looked like it was going to be very difficult for Roddick to crack Federer's serve. But after a sharper service game to even it one all, Andy took advantage of a rare unsteady game from the top ranked player in the world. When he ripped a forehand, forcing a forehand volley error from Federer into the net, Roddick pumped his fist and had the break. But right away, the champion put pressure on Andy's serve and although he didn't get back on serve, he made it known that it would be a struggle for the American to hang on and claim the set.

When Roddick slipped up in similar fashion to Roger earlier in the set, the Swiss product pounced forcing Andy into a long backhand which put the pivotal set back on serve three apiece, prompting a 'Come on' from Federer. From that point, both players held their serve without trouble until Federer led 6-5. With Roddick serving to push it to a tiebreaker, Federer earned two set points. But Roddick came through with two unreturnable service winners and held for six all.

In the tiebreak, Federer jumped out to a 3-0 lead when he surprisingly took both points on Roddick's serve. But even more remarkably, Roddick came right back to make it 3-2 when he hustled to hit a perfect slice backhand winner down the line to put it back on serve. Unfortunately for Roddick, Federer played the next two points well to lead 5-2. When he forced Roddick into an error, Andy slammed his racket in frustration because he knew how vital the second set was. Time was running out. When Federer hit a service winner down the tee, he claimed the tiebreak 7-2 and took a commanding two set lead. Out of the eight tiebreakers they've played, Federer has taken seven of them.

With some light drops of rain falling, play was halted for 25 minutes. This gave Roddick a chance to regroup and talk to his coach Dean Goldfine. But on this day, nothing was going to stop Federer.

When play continued, Roddick came out serving well and hitting the ball crisply from the baseline. He even got to deuce on an early Federer serve giving the partisan crowd some hope. However, Federer did not budge.

Both players held for three all without any problem. Like champions usually do, they seize the moment. That's what Federer did in the seventh game of the set. With Roddick knowing he needed to hold, Federer went on the offensive to put himself in position to earn a break. The game started with him running down a Roddick volley and cracking a winner down the line. When he hit a return that Roddick had to play between his legs on the next point, eventually Federer hit a running forehand winner to get to love-30. That's when the crowd sensed that it could be the beginning of the end. When he hit a beautiful crosscourt backhand winner to break Roddick and lead 4-3, he was two games away from destiny.

After each player held for 5-4, Federer easily served it out. When he nailed a service winner that Roddick couldn't return, Roger pumped his fists in excitement and dropped to his knees, laying against the grass as if it were the comfort of home. On this surface, he may as well have been. It was Federer's 21st straight match won at Wimbledon and 36th consecutive victory on grass with his last loss on the surface coming against Mario Ancic in the first round in 2002. He's come a long way since then.

The 36 straight victories are five shy of the record set by the uncomparable Bjorn Borg. Borg won all 41 of his matches at Wimbledon enroute to a men's tournament record five consecutive titles from 1976-80. Federer will take a shot next year at matching that impressive streak and winning a fourth Wimbledon in a row. For now, just Borg and Sampras ('97-00) have ever won four straight championships at the All England Club.

As a 19-year-old four years ago, he ended Sampras' run in four sets with a forehand return winner and fell to his knees then because he beat a legend. Now, Federer is the one writing his own script for fans to remember.

The slam was his fifth major of his career and first since overwhelming Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets at last year's U.S. Open. Federer had been having a great year winning seven titles heading into defense of his crown. But two of his three defeats had come in the first two slam semifinals, losing to eventual champions Marat Safin (Australian Open) and Rafael Nadal (French Open). If he didn't win in London, it would have been considered a letdown. That's how much has become expected of Federer.

Even more amazing is the fact that Federer doesn't lose in finals. He is five-for-five at grand slams having dropped just one set and has won a tour record 21 in succession. The previous best was 12, shared by Borg and John McEnroe.

Federer will now have a chance to defend his title at the U.S. Open in six weeks. If he can, he will be eight away from the all-time record of 14 set by Sampras. It might be a little early to start counting down but Sampras was the same age when he won his third consecutive Wimbledon in '95 and fifth title. If Federer can continue his supreme level and stay healthy, maybe one day he can challenge that remarkable record.

For Roddick, once again, he finished runner-up to Federer. While it had to be disappointing for the 22-year-old American, he should take some solace in knowing that other than Federer, nobody else has solved him at Wimbledon or any other grass court tournament in the last three years. During that span, Roddick has won 32 of his last 35 matches on the surface.

Roddick did try his new tactic of going to the net more against Federer. But he wasn't as successful as he had been in previous matches, able to win just 18 of 42 (43 %) points due mostly to Federer's solid ball striking from the baseline. Meanwhile, Federer won 17 of 25 (68 %) points when he came in. A much better ratio.

That was the kind of day it was. Nothing Roddick could have done.

He was up against the best.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dandy Andy Sets Up Rematch With Roger

After having to wait an extra day to complete his semifinal match against Swede Thomas Johansson, American Andy Roddick setup a championship rematch of last year's Wimbledon with a hard earned four set victory over Johansson 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (10), 7-6 (5).

For Roddick, the match was befitting of how this tournament has gone for him. The '03 U.S. Open winner had his work cut out for him against '02 Aussie champ Johansson. That much was evident in the first set when each player held serve to force a tiebreaker. With Roddick needing to capitalize on one of two set points, Johansson surprisingly ran off the final four of the tiebreak to own the first set.

However, momentum shifted dramatically when Johansson took a bathroom break after the set. The timing seemed a little odd. When he returned, Roddick broke him twice in the second set and took it easily 6-2 to level the match.

With the balance of the match hanging on who could get the third set, both players performed admirably, combining powerful accurate serves with solid groundstrokes. This led to plenty of competitive rallies and forced both players to fight off break points to stay on serve. Late in the second, when Roddick broke Johansson to go up 6-5, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he'd serve it out without trouble. But that wasn't the case this time. When Johansson converted a second break point with a crosscourt backhand winner, it sent the set to a pivotal tiebreak.

In a tightly contested breaker, both men took turns earning set points to take the lead. Roddick fought off two first with help of a Johansson wide forehand and a service winner. Then Johansson served away a Roddick set point before earning a third of his own. But the hard serving Roddick came through with a clutch ace to level it. After Johansson fought off a second Roddick set point, finally, Andy capitalized on a third chance with a service winner to take it 12-10. The set lasted 68 minutes.

If Roddick thought the victory would be smooth sailing from this point, he had another thing coming. Johansson continued to match Roddick serve for serve. For the day, each player had 19 aces.

Ultimately, they headed for another tiebreak. It's rare that the server wins every point in the breaker but for 10 consecutive points, both Roddick and Johansson took turns holding. With the score knotted at five and Johansson serving to get a set point, an unlikely bounce wound up deciding the outcome of the match. All match long, Johansson had kicked his serve out wide effectively. On this crucial point, his first serve went directly into the corner towards Andy's forehand. But he hit a slice return that just clipped the top of the net and magically, went over leaving Johansson not enough time to recover, giving Roddick match point on his own serve. Just what he needed to escape any further drama of a potential fifth set. Roddick cooly stepped up and crushed an unreturnable shot down the middle that Johansson barely got a forehand on for a service winner to end the match to advance to his second straight Wimbledon final.

Now, the task becomes more difficult for him. Beat top ranked Roger Federer on his most dominant surface. As if the task wasn't easy enough, Roddick has had his share of problems against Federer. Federer has won eight of the nine meetings including the last two at the All England Club. In '03, he eliminated Roddick in the semis with a routine straight set victory. Last year, it was a bit more competitive with Andy surprising Roger by grabbing the first set. But a determined Federer stormed back taking the next three sets in close fashion to repeat as champion.

Can Roddick finally climb the final hurdle and dethrone Federer? He's playing a better brand of tennis than he did last year and at this year's semi defeat to Lleyton Hewitt down under. Roddick is not just dominating on serve or with his lethal forehand but also surprisingly at the net. He's made it part of his game plan to get up to net and take advantage of his deep groundstrokes. So far, Andy has been very sharp, showing some new found flair finishing points away. Even getting himself dirty by diving. This kind of aggressive tactic could be essential if Roddick is to pull this off.

He also is getting up and down the court faster due to improved fitness. Considering that Roddick has already had to go the distance to win two of his matches against earlier opponents and needed to tough out a four setter against Johansson, that fitness could be put to a test against Federer.

With the two-time defending champion having no problem advancing past Hewitt in the other semi Friday, he will be better rested. Federer has only dropped one set thus far, coming back in a heated third round encounter with German Nicolas Kiefer. But since that match, as the opponents have gotten tougher, Federer has lifted his game to another level. He was brilliant against Juan Carlos Ferrero in a very competitive round of 16 match. Against Fernando Gonzalez in the quarters, he had to be equally as dominant to win in straight sets. And finally, against Hewitt, another opponent he has owned lately, Federer was tougher on the big points, allowing him to cruise in three against a game opponent.

Contrast that with Roddick, who had a two day five set struggle in the second round with lucky loser Daniele Bracciali and also was pushed the distance in an ultracompetitive quarter against two-time semifinalist Sebastien Grosjean. He also defeated Guillermo Coria along the way to that match-up in a straight sets test.

During his run to the finals, he has dropped five sets and had to play extra days to advance twice due to rain. All that wear and tear could be cause for concern. But Roddick seems fairly confident that he'll be ready to go.

One thing that could help Roddick this time is he now knows he can win five set matches. Until his two wins at this year's event, he hadn't pulled a match out in five since his comeback from two sets down in the '03 U.S. Open semis against David Nalbandian. Ironically, that was the one major he won.

So, can Roddick prevent Federer from making history and winning his third straight Wimbledon? Something only the legendary Borg and Sampras have accomplished in the modern Open Era. Tune in tomorrow to NBC's Breakfast at Wimbledon at 9 ET/6 PT to find out.

It could be a classic.

Venus Out of This World

In a championship match that will go down as one of the greatest women's finals, Venus Williams defeated Lindsay Davenport in a gutwrenching three sets, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 to win her third Wimbledon crown. It was her fifth major title and first since winning the U.S. Open in 2001. That was also the year she repeated at the All England Club.

The match went down in Wimbledon history as the longest ladies final, lasting a grueling two hours and 45 minutes. It eclipsed Margaret Court's straight set victory over Billie Jean King in 1970 which lasted two hours and 28 minutes back in an era before tiebreakers were introduced.

It was every bit as tension filled as the length indicates. Venus and Davenport put on a display of big serving, heavy ball striking and remarkable shot making that captivated the audience. With some clutch hitting from both players and terrific hustle as well, it was so close that either could have won. Williams outpointed Davenport 129-119. Both players broke the other four times.

Up a set, Davenport broke Williams to take a 6-5 lead in the second, giving her a chance to serve for the championship. But a resilient Williams came out hitting aggressively from the baseline, not even allowing Davenport to record a point, breaking at love to force a pivotal tiebreak. In a seesaw battle that saw Williams jump out to a 4-1 lead but then have Davenport creep back to 5-4 to put it on serve, Venus came up with the goods to take the next two points and force a deciding set. What the crowd didn't realize was that the tennis they were about to witness would be some of the best ever played.

From the very start of the third set, each player fought tooth and nail to hold serve. With Davenport up 1-0, Venus saved two break points to stay on serve. Neither player would budge until Williams cracked at 2-3 to put Davenport within two service games of winning her first slam since the 2000 Australian Open. However, once again, with defeat staring her in the face, Venus raised her level in the next game to break Davenport. Davenport had two points to go up 5-2 but Williams wouldn't allow it to happen finally forcing deuce, before recording the key break to get back on serve 3-4.

With the action already riveting enough, Davenport needed an injury timeout during the break due to a lower back strain. This only increased the drama of a third set that would become the longest women's final in Wimbledon history since Louise Brough defeated Margaret Osborne duPont 10-8, 1-6, 10-8 in 1949.

When she returned, it was evident that Lindsay couldn't bend over and moved around the court gingerly. But the gimpy number one player in the world continued to show the mettle of a champion, refusing to go down without a fight.

After both players held serve to make it 5-4 Davenport was again a game away from the title. With all the pressure on Venus to stay in the match, she almost slipped up, giving Davenport a championship point at 30/40. With the crowd on the edge of their seats, Williams came up with another gutsy point finishing it with a backhand winner down the line to stave off elimination. It was the first time a ladies champion overcame championship point at the All England Club since 1935 when Helen Wills Moody accomplished the feat, coming back to defeat Helen Jacobs 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

With pressure mounting every game, somehow, the hobbled Davenport mustered enough resolve to force Williams to stay alive twice more. But with Lindsay's back stiffening, Venus wisely served into the body, inducing some errors. With her serving at 6-7, a crucial point took place that might have been the beginning of the end for Davenport. With Williams serving 15-30 two points from defeat, the two battled, trading groundstrokes from corner to corner in an awe inspiring 25-stroke rally that concluded with Williams smacking a forehand crosscourt winner that sent Davenport bent over for a good minute before Venus finished out the game to level it at seven. For the match, Williams finished with 49 winners to Davenport's 30.

With Davenport serving to go up 8-7, Williams finally got to her winning the first three points to setup three break points. But Davenport bravely fought off the first two to show that she still had something left. However, the third break point would be too much for Lindsay to overcome when Venus nailed a forehand down the line to put her in position to serve for the championship.
Williams quickly forced two Davenport errors to 30-love. When Davenport gave everything she had in the third point, Venus sent a thunderous running backhand down the line to set up three match points for the title. After the shot, she lifted her arms, pumping them as if to say, 'One more!' After she double faulted for the 10th time, Williams finally triumphed when a Davenport forehand sank into the net, setting off a tremendous celebration of leaps from a jubilant Venus. Almost in tears as she reached the net to embrace her close American rival, Venus congratulated Davenport on a match well played.

As a 14th seed, Williams became the lowest seeded woman to ever capture the Wimbledon crown, besting Maria Sharapova, who won it last year as a 13 seed over sister Serena.

For Williams, the long journey back to winning her third Wimbledon got off to a slow start in the opening set. Unlike her semifinal match against Sharapova when she couldn't miss, Venus wasn't as sharp, spraying errors from both sides and doublefaulting a few times. The sluggish start allowed Davenport to get up two breaks 5-2 and serve for the set. However, Williams finally showed some life breaking Davenport at love and holding at love to win eight straight points to get within 5-4. Finally, Davenport served out the set the second time around without a problem.

Though she dropped the first set, Williams would not let up the rest of the match. Ultimately, she wouldn't be denied on this day. One that will be remembered for a long time.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Venus and Lindsay Meet in All American Final

When the greatest tennis tournament at the All England Club began, to most observers, Venus Williams wasn't a serious contender to win her fifth grand slam title and first since taking the U.S. Open in 2001. How could she have been when younger sis Serena loomed in the fourth round and French Open champ Justine Henin-Hardenne was expected to be waiting in the quarterfinals?

But that's why they play the matches. As Venus was taking care of business in her early rounds, suddenly, her bracket opened up. In the very opening round, a weary Henin-Hardenne fell victim to Eleni Daniilidou in three sets. Then with a potential sister showdown within grasp, an injury riddled and weary Serena couldn't get through Jill Craybas, losing in straight sets despite trying her best. But after surviving the first two rounds with come-from-behind three set victories, Serena couldn't pull another magic trick out of her bag. She was done.

Maybe this was a blessing in disguise for Venus. Whenever they have met in slams, it's always been tough to watch and usually hasn't produced the kind of high quality tennis both Williamses are capable of. For Venus, it meant one less distraction on and off the court. A chance to just focus on the task at hand without all the fuss.

A round later, she avenged Serena's loss by whipping Craybas, only dropping two games to advance to her first quarterfinal since the '04 French Open. Finally against a tougher opponent in French runner-up Mary Pierce, Venus found out that she still had what it took to win a major. After bageling Pierce in the first set, things got a little tight in a competitive second set tiebreak. But with tension running high, Venus fought off several set points and ultimately prevailed 12-10 to advance to her first semifinal at a major since falling short in the final to Serena two years ago.

Venus would have the unenviable task of having to dethrone the talented Russian defending champion Maria Sharapova in the semis. Sharapova, just 18 had shown little signs of retreat in attempting to repeat. Just like Venus, she hadn't dropped a set all tournament and remarkably had been broken just once heading into the match. But in an ultracompetitive slugfest, it was Venus who showed better hustle and shotmaking along with a bundle of determination. The first set was intensely played with each player crushing balls from the baseline which produced an exciting brand of tennis that had the crowd captivated. But when Venus blew a set point and dropped her serve to a game Sharapova, it forced a tiebreak. But once there, the more experienced 25-year-old American played a cleaner game taking it 7-2 to capture the momentum. This seemed to take some fight out of her opponent. She broke right away to start the second and never let up. Though Sharapova wouldn't go away, Venus proved to be too much, even breaking the will of the number two ranked player. When it was over after a Sharapova backhand sailed long, Venus had won the second set 6-1 and put her arms up in triumph.

She showed the world that she was back. The victory had to be extra satisfying for Venus, who had never defeated Sharapova in two previous tries. Most including myself felt she would give a great effort but come up short against the defending champ. There would have been no devastation if that's what happened because Venus was an underdog. But on this day, this wasn't your normal 14th seed playing number two. This was a two-time Wimbledon champion and four-time slam winner. The hunger was back.

Today, Venus will meet a familiar foe in number one ranked Lindsay Davenport for the championship. It promises to be intriguing. Both players are in their mid to late 20's. Davenport is 29, four years older than Venus. Imagine that! Two seasoned vets will battle to become the sixth different woman to win the sixth consecutive slam. We're so used to seeing younger champions such as Sharapova, Henin-Hardenne, Kuznetsova and Myskina. Even Serena is still just 23. When two older women battle for all the marbles, it's news.

Both finalists haven't won a slam title in a while. Venus won her last one four years ago at the All England Club when she was a younger 21. For Davenport, the drought has been even longer. She won her third slam at the Australian Open back in '00. Yes. She was 24 then.

Before last year's Wimbledon, Davenport had considered retirement due to inconsistent play and injuries. It appeared that last year would be her last on the WTA Tour. However, an impressive run to the semifinals where she had a great chance to take out Sharapova in straight sets and continued success at the U.S. Open Series (four tournament wins) changed her mind. If not for an injury in last year's semifinal against eventual champ Kuznetsova, she might have won her fourth major. But it wasn't meant to be.

By the end of the year, she was number one and decided she wasn't done. Instead, Davenport seems to have had a renaissance at an older age. In Melbourne this year, she advanced all the way to her first final since being runner-up at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open five years ago. Against Serena Williams, Davenport seemed in control up a set and a break enroute to her second Aussie title. However, Serena battled back and a moody Davenport had little left in the final set.

At Roland Garros, a surface not suited to her firepower groundstrokes, she surprised Kim Clijsters in the fourth round, showing grit in a three-set comeback win. But the next round, she fell in the quarters to Pierce. Still, it was a nice run on the clay which had to give her more confidence heading to the grass courts.

That has been evident so far. After cruising through the first three rounds without a problem, Davenport faced Clijsters again in the round of 16. In a competitive rematch that produced some excellent rallies and winners from both players, Davenport squeezed out a three set victory. After dropping a second set tiebreak to force the final set, Lindsay stepped up her game and didn't fade like she had in Australia. Instead, she hit some remarkable running forehand winners and dictated most of the points. It enabled her to prevail 6-3 and make the quarterfinals. There, she avenged her U.S. Open defeat to Kuznetsova by prevailing in straight sets, 7-6 (1), 6-3.

In the semis, she faced some stiff competition in Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo. A match that took over two hours and two days to complete due to rain produced some excellent tennis from both combatants. So close were the points that the first two sets needed tiebreakers. Mauresmo took the first one 7-5 and seemed in control when Davenport had an awful opening game of the second set to donate a break of serve. However, a persistent Davenport broke back and forced another tiebreak. This time, Lindsay came up with the goods taking it 7-4 to force a final set. When Davenport broke to lead 4-3, all she needed was to hold her serve twice to win. But when rain halted play with her leading 5-3 and Mauresmo up 15-love serving to stay in the match, it meant a difficult task of having to comeback Friday and try to close it out as quickly as possible. Especially with a rested Venus waiting. After Mauresmo won the final three points on her serve to make it 5-4, Davenport cooly got all her four first serves in and won every point to conclude the contest 6-4 and advance to the final.

This will be a championship rematch of five years ago. At that time, Venus won the first of her four slams, defeating a higher ranked Davenport 6-3, 7-6 (3). Now, five years later, once again Davenport is ranked higher and will be the favorite. If Venus is victorious, she will become the lowest seed (14th) to ever claim the Wimbledon crown. Last summer, Sharapova claimed the title as a 13 seed.

Now that both are there, two things are certain. Someone that hasn't lifted a trophy in four-or-more years will win Wimbledon. Both competitors will be American, ensuring tennis fans in The States with an early Fourth of July present.

Let the fireworks begin.