Major comeback: V. Williams captures Wimbledon classic

No. 14 rises to old form, edges No. 1 Davenport in longest-ever women's final


July 03, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - The regal, manicured lawn of Wimbledon's Centre Court is a fitting stage for the most storied tournament in tennis, no doubt. But it is the sounds from the stands, like those heard yesterday, that indicate the quality of the venue is being matched by the quality of play.

So it was yesterday. The tennis tournament richer in history than any other held a final that made it richer still, ending in an epic victory for Venus Williams over Lindsay Davenport, two once-dominant players who went toe-to-toe in their quest to be Wimbledon champion one more time.

To the hush of nearly 14,000 fans sucking in their breath with each floater headed for the baselines, to the release of that air through wild cheering accompanied by thunderous applause, Williams capped a career comeback with a gutsy match against a gutsy opponent, fighting back for a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 victory.

Williams, the No. 14 seed, came back from a set down to win her first major in nearly four years, staring down championship point to become the lowest women's seed to win the tournament since the Open era began in 1968. Maria Sharapova, seeded 13th last year, was the previous lowest-seeded champion.

Williams did it in the longest women's tournament final on record, a match of 2 hours, 45 minutes. The three sets had enough drama to fill double that time.

When Davenport hit a forehand into the net to end the match, the sounds on Centre Court hit their climax, with the fans, aware they had just witnessed a classic, cheering as if begging for an encore set.

Williams was at the center of it all. After taking the final point and hugging Davenport at the net, she went to her knees, patted the court on which she had just won the championship for the third time, then jumped, laughed and doubled over in joy.

"There were so many times when I was just trying to stay in the match," she said during the trophy ceremony. "Really, I couldn't have asked to play a better player today to bring my level up."

Williams won Wimbledon in 2000 and 2001 and was runner-up to her sister Serena in 2002 and 2003, but she had been all but written off in this year's tournament. Her previous major championship came in the 2001 U.S. Open.

Davenport, No. 1 in the world, but without a major title since winning the Australian Open in 2000 and considering retirement only a year ago, was looking for a comeback herself, and through much of the match it appeared she'd find it yesterday.

She reached championship point, leading 5-4 and receiving serve in the final set, but Williams kept the match alive with a backhand winner, then hit another to take the game for 5-5.

And Davenport had been up 5-3 with the serve in the second set, but Williams broke her and pushed the match to a third.

To use a sports cliche that has rarely been more true than yesterday: It's a shame one of them had to lose.

"Every time the chips were down for Venus, she played unbelievable," Davenport said. "I thought I played really well and I thought I had a lot of chances, and I feel like she never let me take advantage of those chances."

Indeed, after a relatively lethargic first set for Williams, she began nailing the corners. On grass, once a player is off-balance and on the defensive, the point usually belongs to the aggressor. Yesterday, though, Williams reached and lunged for unlikely returns, floating the ball deep to Davenport and then regaining position to win the point.

She played her best tennis in two years in her Thursday semifinal against Maria Sharapova, the defending champion and tournament favorite. And though she may not have been as sharp overall yesterday - she had 10 double faults and a series of unforced errors early - she was at her best when it counted most.

"You never know what life will throw at you," Williams said. "I just expect the sun to come up these days, that's all."

That the match would go three sets wouldn't have been fitting enough, so it went into extra games in the last set.

That climax was the longest third set in a Wimbledon women's final since Louise Brough beat Margaret Osborne duPont, 10-8, 1-6, 10-8, in 1949, and it was tense from beginning to end.

Davenport's back went stiff and bothered her for several games midway through the last set, and she took a brief trip to the locker room for treatment from a trainer when ahead 4-3.

Both players held to 7-7. One rally lasted 25 strokes, by far the longest of the match, with both running side to side, reaching for precision-hit corner shots.

Williams earned three break points in the 15th game of the set, finally taking the game with a sizzling forehand to end a 14-shot rally.

She won the first three points of the next game to reach championship point and captured the title two points later.

With the victory, Williams ended a streak of losses in her previous five Grand Slam finals, all against her sister. During the trophy ceremony at Centre Court, Venus thanked Serena for her support.

Williams received $1.062 million. Davenport settled for $531,000.

Men's final today

Matchup: Defending champion Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick

Time/TV: 9 a.m., Ch. 11

Preview, Page 13E

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