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It's Serena Standing Tall

Wimbledon: She defeats Venus, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in final as sisters showcase potential of their budding rivalry.

July 07, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WIMBLEDON, England — Graduation Day didn't come at the raucous U.S. Open, the refined French Open or even the egalitarian Australian Open. It came off at the stuffiest tennis cathedral of all, Wimbledon. And the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra might as well have been handing out diplomas, or in this case, shiny hardware.

Venus Williams, 22, and her sister Serena Williams, 20, have passed almost every test, real or imagined, in a relatively short span of time. Perhaps the most difficult question was asked and answered Saturday in the women's final at Wimbledon: Was it possible for them to play a competitive match against one another?

Yes ... finally.

It took nine matches for two sisters who grew up in Compton to get it done and mute the criticism about their dominance being a negative for women's tennis.

Second-seeded Serena defeated No. 1 and two-time defending champion Venus, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in 1 hour 17 minutes, handing her older sister her first loss in 21 matches at Wimbledon. Though Venus leads their series, 5-4, the last three matches have been won by Serena, all in straight sets.

This was Serena's third Grand Slam title--trailing Venus by one--and she became the first female player since Steffi Graf in 1996 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. Venus and Serena have played each other in three Grand Slam finals in the last 10 months, with Serena winning twice.

"In the beginning of the year, I said, 'I don't care what happens this year. I want to win Wimbledon,' " Serena said. "And it was an extra bonus for me to win the French. Sure, I really wanted to win the French. I just couldn't even believe I won.

"But I just wanted Wimbledon. I wanted to become a member, of so much prestige, so much history. I want to be part of history."

This match footage probably isn't immediately bound for ESPN Classic. But it was compelling theater, particularly in the first set, and it reached a superior level in the tiebreaker. The shot-making and power was sometimes astounding, and there was legitimate emotion from both sisters.

"We really wanted to win Wimbledon," Serena said. "It brought out the best in both of us."

Venus dropped her head after missing shots and appeared on the verge of tears after losing. Serena angrily bounced her racket after getting broken at 5-4 when she served for the first set. On break point, she hit a 105-mph serve and the return came rocketing back, and Serena netted a backhand. Her racket promptly hit the grass.

When Venus hit a forehand return into the net on Serena's first match point, Serena dropped her racket in joy but didn't celebrate excessively after sharing a hug with Venus at the net. She blew kisses to the crowd and motioned to a ball boy to retrieve the racket.

Of the two, Serena is more visibly emotional, and Venus appears to internalize her disappointment. In the last game, serving at 5-3, Serena was taking big breaths, calming herself, and waiting to exhale.

In the previous set, Venus had scrambled and survived to pull herself back after Serena served for it at 5-4, winning eight points in a row to take a 6-5 lead.

Serena held to reach the tiebreaker, which featured some of the best points of the match. Serena hit a 112-mph service winner, a backhand passing shot down the line, moving forward on the dead run, and a 100-mph ace on her second set point. For her part, Venus put down a difficult overhead and later drew a cry of despair from Serena when she smacked a backhand cross-court passing shot.

"Really, she was just tremendous today," Venus said. "I think that it wasn't a lot between us. But just on some of those points, she was getting some that I couldn't get."

Venus looked devastated afterward. She had one ace and six double-faults, and the average speed of her first serve was 100 mph, well below last year's standard. The six double-faults were the most she had in any match here this year. She was troubled by a sore shoulder and arm, but refused to offer it as an excuse.

Serena knew her older sister was hurting.

"Especially in the second set today I noticed it," Serena said of the slower serve. "If I'm a competitor, I'm going to have to notice it. Unfortunately, it's a war out here. If there's a weakness, someone's going to have to be attacked."

The attitude was a contrast to the Serena of 2001. Last year, she lost in the quarterfinals here to Jennifer Capriati and seemed to be the weakest strongest-looking woman, joking that she was a hypochondriac. Now, a year later, not only have Venus and Serena distanced themselves from the rest of the players on the tour, Serena has opened up a sizable gap on her older sister.

"I don't think I was going for it as much as Serena," Venus said. "But I don't play the same game as she plays. For her, it's all or nothing."

Said Serena, who has not lost in 19 matches: "I'm happy. I'm part of the [All England] club.... Yeah, this is going to be my main hang-out, don't you know?"

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