Semi-tough S. Williams gains Wimbledon final

She survives in 3 sets, will face Sharapova

July 02, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England - The emotions shifted so abruptly, so suddenly yesterday on Centre Court.

"Ahhh, yes!" Serena Williams would cry during her 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4 victory over Amelie Mauresmo in the Wimbledon semifinals. It would come after a particularly ferocious forehand had brought chalk off the line or when a serve would leave Mauresmo fastened helplessly to the ground.

"Allez!" Mauresmo would shout after a crafty forehand volley or a whip-like, one-handed backhand cut through the swirling wind and left Williams wrong-footed. Mauresmo, her ponytail waving, would bellow out her rallying cry in French and pump her fists.

Or there were howls from both women, who so often followed brilliant shot-making with thoughtless mistakes or ill-timed mis-hits. Or when they tried too much. Or too little.

It was probably the most confounding, exhilarating, annoying, clever, thrilling and heartbreaking tennis played by two women this year.

Down a set and a break and seemingly baffled by her own mistakes and Mauresmo's fortitude, two-time Wimbledon defending champion Williams persevered to oust the fourth-seeded Mauresmo.

In tomorrow's final, the top-seeded Williams will face teenager Maria Sharapova, who handed 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport what was probably her final singles loss at Wimbledon. After serving flawlessly for a set and a half, Davenport lost her rhythm after a rain delay and was gradually knocked off the court by the relentless power of the 17-year-old.

After her 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 win, Sharapova brushed tears from her eyes and said, "It's a shock," about making it to her first Grand Slam final and becoming the first Russian woman to reach a Wimbledon final since Olga Morozova, who lost to Chris Evert in 1974.

"I'd be surprised if I was back," said Davenport, 28, who had hoped for a fourth major title as her parting gift and seemed on the way to the final when a 52-minute second-set rain delay helped turn the match.

Before the rain, Davenport was making nearly 80 percent of her first serves and putting them in corners and on lines. She was leading 6-2, 2-1, with a service break in hand. After the break, the second of the match, Sharapova won 12 of 16 points and gained confidence with each wallop. Her laser ground strokes kept Davenport pinned deep in the backcourt and exposed Davenport's biggest weakness, her movement.

Still, Davenport had break points in the ninth and 11th games of the second set. Sharapova came up with an ace on the first and a service winner on the second.

"With that big serve of hers," Sharapova said, "if she gets that break she's serving for the match. It's basically over."

Said Davenport: "I would have liked my chances."

For Williams, 22, this will be her eighth Grand Slam final - she has won seven - but she has been through a physically and mentally difficult year since she won her second consecutive Wimbledon title in 2003. In August, Williams had knee surgery and in September her half sister, Yetunde Price, was murdered in a Los Angeles drive-by shooting.

"She won't talk about it, but she has gone through very tough times," said Serena's father, Richard Williams.

Supremely talented but mentally fragile, Mauresmo has tended to crack under pressure, but it seemed Williams would be first to succumb yesterday.

Behind 3-1 in the second set, Williams was down 0-30 on her serve after two badly hit backhands. After the second mistake, Williams slammed her racket to the ground. The crunch was heard around the court, but Williams won three consecutive points before the frame buckled.

Williams seemed to channel her anger into aggressive tennis. She began approaching the net more and controlling points with her volleys and power en route to victory.

To win a third consecutive Wimbledon might be Williams' best tennis moment yet.

"It hasn't been an easy road back," Williams said. "[The media] always expect me to win, expect me to be in the final. But it's not so easy all the time."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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