V. Williams is back

Sharapova is gone in two

Showing old toughness, 2-time Wimbledon winner powers her way into final

July 01, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - After watching Venus Williams on Wimbledon's hallowed Centre Court yesterday, the surprise was not that she again finds herself in the final of a Grand Slam, but that so many people had written her off.

Williams showed that whatever may have been missing from her game over the past two years was hanging around somewhere. And yesterday, she found it.

She out-served, out-volleyed, out-stretched and even out-grunted defending champion Maria Sharapova, earning a rain-delayed, 7-6 (2), 6-1 semifinal victory.

If Williams has been suffering from a lack of competitive desire - as others have guessed, but she's denied - it wasn't evident yesterday. When she captured the final point, she jumped high enough - fists clenched and arms raised - that it seemed possible she'd punch the lingering rain clouds that had delayed the start of the match by 4 1/2 hours.

"I love this tournament," she said. "This is definitely the surface for me."

She'll go for her third Wimbledon title tomorrow against either fellow American Lindsay Davenport or France's Amelie Mauresmo, whose match was suspended by rain with Davenport leading 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 5-3 and Mauresmo serving at 15-love.

Sharapova, the No. 2 seed and the favorite of bookmakers to win the championship, played well throughout the match, which was closer than the final score might indicate.

But Williams was nearly flawless, hitting huge and accurate first serves in the first set. And when she had to rely more on her second serve in set No. 2, her reach in the ensuing rallies was like that of an albatross; she looked prepared to fly into the Wimbledon grandstand as she chased down winners.

She played with the form that made her a four-time Grand Slam winner, including twice here - in 2000 and 2001.

She also has been a two-time tournament runner-up, but it has been nearly four years since her most recent Grand Slam championship, and, at 25 years old, few expected much from her this time.

She had progressed through the tournament almost unnoticed, playing mostly on the outer courts, as opposed to the Centre Court stage she commanded in so many matches in past years.

She lost to her sister, Serena, in the Wimbledon final in 2003, barely able to move because of a stomach injury. And since her return after taking six months to recover from that injury, she had been a shadow - though a large one - of her former self.

Sharapova's gold-speckled shoes probably got more ink during the tournament than Williams' play did on the way to yesterday's match.

"My game has been improving step by step," Williams said. "There were times when I was disappointed in how I played, because I knew I could play better. But all in good time.

"Everyone has their moment in the sun. That's what my mom always says. Everyone gets to win sometimes. Even though I would like it to be me every time, it's almost impossible."

Sharapova, who had not lost a set during the tournament, seemed stunned by the ferocity of Williams, who could be seen gritting her teeth throughout the match - until her smile went net-wide when she won.

"It was either me not playing the best I can or her playing too good," Sharapova said. "I think she played one of the best matches of her life - that I've seen, anyway."

The first set was some of the highest-level tennis seen in this year's tournament, with both players nailing the corners with power and precision - and both running, lunging and connecting on unlikely returns that at times had the fully packed Centre Court crowd gasping.

With both hitting blistering ground strokes, there was little opportunity for either to move to the net, so they fought it out mostly from the baselines - and far wide of them.

Sharapova, down 5-2 in the first set, pulled out some spectacular shots to break serve and eventually move the set to a tiebreaker, but then several of her shots missed and Williams hit only one errant shot to take the first set, and then broke Sharapova in the opening game of the second.

"I'm obviously very sad," said Sharapova, who is finding it's not easy being a champion. She has not reached a major final since her surprising title run at Wimbledon a year ago.

"This tournament means a lot to me, more than any other tournament," she said. "I guess there are more years to come."

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