Venus stands tall after brutal final
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Like a scene from a Rocky movie, VenusWilliams scraped herself off the floor to beat LindsayDavenport in a primeval battle of wills and claim a thirdWimbledon title on Saturday.
After nearly three hours of brutal destruction in front ofa spellbound Center Court crowd, the American triumphed 4-6 7-69-7 in the longest, and one of the most dramatic, women’sfinals in Wimbledon history.
Her compatriot Davenport served for the title in the secondset and had a match point deep into the tumultuous decider but14th seed Venus, written off before the tournament, hit back tosnatch victory with some inspired tennis.
“I’m so excited … I just managed to last a bit longerthan her,” said Venus, whose last grand slam triumph was the2001 U.S. Open. “I always felt like a champion in my heart.”
Venus double faulted on her first match point. Secondslater an exhausted and limping Davenport buried a forehand intothe net to hand a disbelieving Venus victory.
Initially stunned, Venus was still screaming and jumpinground the court minutes after the last point had been played.
“I’ve always felt my destiny was to win grand slam titles,”said the ecstatic 25-year-old, who had lost her last five grandslam finals, all to her younger sister Serena.
“I was so excited, I could have jumped for a bit longer.”
Davenport, who in January lost the final of the AustralianOpen to Venus’s sister Serena, will remain as world number onebut that will be scant consolation after coming so agonizinglyclose to ending her five-year wait for a major.
“When the chips were down she came up with someunbelievable tennis,” said the 29-year-old. “It was great andexhilarating. I don’t feel like I’ve got anything to hang myhead for or feel ashamed of. She fought hard, she was great.”
Having played 26 times in a rivalry dating back to 1997both players knew exactly what to expect from each other.
Dinked drop shots, subtle slices and cute angles werestrictly prohibited as they went for each other’s throats fromthe start with ferocious baseline power.
Davenport, who lost to Venus in the final five years ago,roared into a 5-2 lead in the opening set as her opponent, whoreached the final without dropping a set, struggled with herserve and an error-riddled forehand.
Venus rattled off the next nine points to close the gap butDavenport made no mistake at 5-4, clinching a slow-burningfirst set that rarely hinted at the drama to come.
Davenport disputed a line call at 4-4 in the second setwhen a Venus first serve was not called out — the offendingdelivery striking the erroneous line judge on the head.
“You understand you really have to try harder,” she toldumpire Gerry Armstrong.
That was forgotten two games later when Venus, down 15-40on serve, slipped in the corner and threw up a flailing racketin desperation as Davenport thumped a winner.
Serving for the match, Davenport was then sent reeling by abarrage of Venus winners as she broke back to love and thengalloped into a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak before a clubbingforehand squared the match.
Davenport had won their previous four clashes and when anexasperated Venus slugged a forehand wide to drop serve at 2-3it looked as though that run was going to continue.
However Davenport squandered two points for a 5-2 lead andVenus hit back to 4-4, at which point Davenport disappeared offcourt for an injury time-out, the result of a back problem.
When she returned her movement was labored but shecourageously held on to her serve.
A wild Venus double-fault at 30-30 in the following gamegave Davenport a match point but she could only watch as Venusswiped a backhand winner.
Playing on pure instinct, Davenport was two points fromvictory with Venus serving at 6-7 but she was left bent doubleand gasping after losing an exchange of baseline bullets thatdefied belief.
She came under attack at 7-7 and this time a pumped-upVenus edged ahead in the match for the first time since theopening game, battering a winner past her lunging opponent onher third break point.
Davenport looked beaten and although she was given a lifewhen Venus wobbled with another double fault at 40-0, there wasno way back as she hit a tired forehand into the net.
“I felt like she deserved it,” said Davenport after the twohour, 45 minute epic. “Maybe next year I can improve on this.
“But gosh, that’s a long way off. I really don’t know (ifI’ll be back), I have no idea, I hope so.”