Sunday, July 07, 2002

Serena shows no mercy in victory over Venus



By STEVE WILSTEIN
AP Sports Writer

[img]
Serena Williams returns to her sister Venus during the Women's Singles final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon Saturday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        WIMBLEDON, England — Ignore the conspiracy theories. Dismiss any notions that daddy dictates who wins. With every screaming shot and breathless dash in a Wimbledon final of exquisite fury, Serena and Venus Williams punched holes in suspicions that the fix is in when they meet on a Grand Slam stage.

        They wiped away, too, worries that the emotional baggage of their close bond, never really a sibling rivalry, might be impossible for them to overcome, that all their matches would suffer from a surfeit of conflicted feelings.

        This time, they played each other the way they play everyone else, Serena, particularly, showing no mercy in exploiting the slight weakness she saw in Venus' serve Saturday to end her two-year reign as Wimbledon champion, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

        “It's not fun losing, no matter who you lose to,” Venus said, her sad, weary expression showing how much she wanted to keep her title and how hard she had tried.

        For Serena, 20, the victory validated her ascent to the No. 1 ranking, giving her a Wimbledon silver platter to go with the French Open trophy she won a month ago against Venus in a less compelling match, and the U.S. Open cup she captured in 1999.

        “I just wanted Wimbledon,” she said. “I wanted to become a member of so much prestige, so much history.”

        Serena knew before the match that Venus' right shoulder was sore, but that didn't stop her from jumping on her big sister's serves and running her dizzy with drives that kissed the corners and tattooed the lines.

        “If I'm a competitor, I'm going to have to notice it,” Serena said of Venus' slower serves in the second set. “Unfortunately, it's like a war out here. If there's a weakness, someone's going to have to be attacked.”

        Happily, the love between them wasn't diminished and probably never will be, no matter how many times they meet for the biggest prizes in tennis. They hugged at the end and 90 minutes later were back on court playing doubles — smiling, slapping hands and beating Chanda Rubin and Anna Kournikova 6-7 (3), 6-0, 6-3 to reach Sunday's final.

        Ever since the Williams sisters started playing each other in tournaments four years ago, there have been allegations by some players and suspicions by some writers that the winners were preordained by their father and coach, Richard Williams.

        There's never been any proof of that, and Venus and Serena have always denied it. Yet their matches lacked the kind of ferocity they displayed against others, something that was probably better explained by their close ties than by any conspiracy.

        This time, it was obvious how much they both wanted to win and how they could put aside their feelings.

        You could see it in their resolute faces when they walked on. In the way they chased down balls that no other women could have reached. In the way they grunted on groundstrokes and serves, and groaned when they missed. In the way they faced away from each other on changeovers, Serena staring at the court, reading notes she had written to herself to stay focused, Venus turning her chair in the direction of the Royal Box.

        This match, at least through the first set, had the tension and quality that their previous duels lacked. Serena forced the action, going for winners, not holding back. Venus, so often the one who dictates play, was put on the defensive, searching for openings.

        One of those came when Serena was only two points from winning the first set, serving at 5-4, 30-30. Venus pelted a backhand return, one of her signature shots, and Serena dumped it into the net. Serena bore down, drilling a serve up middle, only to see Venus crush the return. Serena netted that, too, to lose the game, then angrily bounced her racket on the court.

        Venus held at love to move ahead 6-5, but then so did Serena to set up a tiebreaker. Neither one would give an inch. Winners flew off each of their rackets.

        Serena got the first minibreak with a sizzling forehand into the corner, and she arrived at 6-4, serving for the set. She took her time now. Breathing deliberately. Dribbling the ball with her racket. Usually she bounced the ball five times before serving. Now she bounced it 12 times, tossed it up and sliced an ace wide of Venus' outstretched racket.

        Serena would be just as careful, up a break and serving at love on the last point of the match. It was an anticlimactic moment, Venus dropping her serve the previous game with her sixth double-fault as she succumbed to the pressure and her tiring shoulder.

        Serena knew she had to put the match away right there, not let her sister back in, not let emotions get in the way.

        “Twenty years from now,” she wondered, “am I going to regret missing this serve?”

        She kneeled down, gulping air to calm herself, then smacked a serve that Venus netted. There would be no regrets.

        ———

        Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org

       



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