It had been five years since they squared off in a Grand Slam singles final, and the long wait produced one of their most consistently intense and entertaining matches despite the gusty conditions that often made Centre Court feel more like the front deck of a ship.
But there is still no doubt about which Williams sister has the best record at Wimbledon.
Despite a ferocious start from Serena, Venus absorbed the shock and gradually imposed her long-limbed presence on her favorite tennis court. Her 7-5, 6-4 victory gave her a fifth Wimbledon singles title, leaving Serena with two.
“I can’t believe it’s five, but when you’re in the final against Serena Williams, five seems so far away from that first point,” Venus said in her postmatch remarks to the crowd. “She played so awesome. It was really a task to beat her.”
Although Serena hugged her older sister at the net and was gracious during the ceremony, this defeat was clearly a major blow. Serena has worked herself into fine shape this season, but she has not won a Grand Slam singles title since her surprise run at the 2007 Australian Open.
“I don’t think I’m satisfied with the way I played today,” Serena said. “For me, there’s nothing to be satisfied about.”
Serena was feeling cheerier by the end of the night, after she and Venus won their third women’s doubles title here by beating Lisa Raymond of the United States and Samantha Stosur of Australia, 6-2, 6-2.
This Wimbledon was a Williams revival indeed, but the match that mattered most was the singles. “I had a feeling that they were finally going to play a really good final,” the nine-time Wimbledon singles champion Martina Navratilova said. “Today was fantastic tennis.”
Serena beat Venus in their previous Wimbledon finals in 2002 and 2003. But the record books now make it clear that the All England Club is more Venus’s stamping ground than hers. This was Venus’s second straight title and her third in four years, but it was the number five that popped into her head immediately after she had secured the match on a backhand error by Serena.
“I think definitely winning this tournament so many times definitely puts you in the stratosphere, to be honest, just because of what this tournament means,” Venus said. “I think had I had this achievement at any other tournament, it would have been awesome, but not nearly the same meaning as at Wimbledon.”
Venus, who was seeded seventh this year, is certainly a different player here. Although she had not reached the final of any tournament this season, she swept through the Wimbledon draw without dropping a set.
“She loves it here,” said Venus’s hitting partner, David Witt. “She comes here, and it just seems like she just gets here and glows. She loves the grass, and obviously confidence is everything in this game.”
Venus Williams rebounded from a slow start to win her second straight Wimbledon title and fifth over all, defeating her sister Serena, 7-5, 6-4.
On grass, Venus’s huge serves and flat ground strokes are penetrating. On grass, she is more inclined to put her volleys to use. At 6 feet 1 inch, she covers a lot of air and space at the net.
That ability, with her clutch serving under pressure, was one of the keys to this victory. Venus came to the net 18 times and lost only 3 points when she did.
With the wind playing nasty tricks, Venus repeatedly grabbed her service tosses out of the air instead of hitting them and often pushed well beyond the 25-second time limit before serving. During a changeover, she was told by the chair umpire Carlos Ramos that she needed to speed up.
But Venus was all too aware that her younger sister was returning aggressively and effectively. Venus lost her serve once in each set, but she could have been broken on three or four more occasions. Serena failed to convert on 11 of her 13 break points, as Venus frequently jammed her by hitting serves into her body. In the first game of the second set, Venus held after hitting the fastest serve ever recorded by a woman at Wimbledon, 129 miles per hour.
“I think that was her tactic, was to serve every ball to the body; I’m glad she did it, because next time I know what to expect,” Serena said.
“I knew what she was doing. It was very readable.”
When Serena finally broke Venus in the second set, prevailing on her seventh break point of a marathon game to take a 2-1 lead, she then lost her own serve in the next game to let Venus get back to 2-2.
Serena appeared dejected after that. Although she was still an imposing presence on the court, Venus was the more audible presence down the stretch, shrieking as she leaned into her ground strokes and playing world-class defense. Serena was uncharacteristically quiet.
She had started more strongly, winning 10 of the first 11 points with a flurry of winners and forcing Venus to scramble to avert a first-set rout. But with Serena leading, 4-2, Venus scrambled back to 4-4.
“I don’t think she made me not play well; I think the conditions were really tough out there,” Serena said of the wind. “I know she was under the same conditions, but it was just really, really tough. She lifted the level of her game, and I should have lifted mine. But instead, I think mine went down.”
The ninth game of the first set proved significant. Venus saved three break points. At game point, Serena hit a backhand floater cross court that she clearly thought was going to be wide. She yelled, but the ball landed in.
Ramos called a let, but after Venus and Serena approached the chair, Ramos ended up pronouncing, “Game Venus.”
Serena had conceded the point. “Serena is the ultimate sportsperson; we both are,” Venus said. “We don’t take injury timeouts. We just play.”
According to a spokesman for the Wimbledon referee’s office, Ramos had initially called a let because he considered Serena’s shout to be an “inadvertent hindrance.” If she had not conceded the point, it would have been replayed.
Serena declined to discuss the incident in detail after the match, but she still managed to hold serve to 5-5 before being broken in her next service game to lose the set. She later dropped her serve again to lose the match, saving the first match point at 15-40 with an ace but knocking a backhand wide at the end of a long rally.
There were no leaps in the air from Venus after the title had been secured, no unbridled joy. But Venus was clearly over the moon, and she and her sister have each won eight times in their 16 often-anticlimactic encounters.
This, however, was one of the best.
July 6, 2008. NY Times