Saturday, July 02, 2005

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.

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