WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Who was that girl who made her Wimbledon debut at age 17 in 1997 with a big future and little purple-and-green hair beads?
"I don't even know how that girl won her first-round match," Venus Williams said Saturday. "She didn't understand anything. She didn't understand how to play. She could hit the ball hard."
And who was that young woman who first won Wimbledon at age 20 in 2000 from an ascendant No. 5 ranking as the first African American female champion since Althea Gibson in 1958?
"That girl was determined," Williams said Saturday. "She went home from the French Open and she worked extremely hard. That girl decided she was going to win the tournament. I remember going home in the car after I played Serena in the semifinals thinking, 'I'm going to win.' It was, like, so clear to me."
So, who was the middle-aged woman (in tennis years) who won Wimbledon for the fourth time Saturday, 6-4, 6-1, running down almost every screaming shot Marion Bartoli could hit, and closing with a 124-mph service winner Bartoli barely hit?
A confident, smart, polished, appreciative 27-year-old who said, "I don't take anything for granted anymore. I did, but not anymore."
Venus Williams has gathered trophies as a new sensation and gathered trophies as a rejuvenated veteran with a grasp of the value of strife, and she has learned which exhilarates more.
After all, of her five previous Grand Slam tournament trophies, the one granted the spot beside her bed at home in Florida would be the 2005 Wimbledon trophy, because she wrung that from a No. 16 ranking and a No. 14 seeding.
"There were so many people who said I wouldn't do it," she said.
If that's true, what to do with a 2007 Wimbledon trophy wrung from a No. 31 ranking and a No. 23 seeding? She's not sure yet and, in fact, fewer people wrote her off, having seen 2005. At the outset of the tournament her father, Richard Williams, picked her to win because she'd been moving "like the south wind."
Instead, this one shines because it solidifies the notion of Wimbledon as her sanctuary. She climbs above Chris Evert's three titles, lands three shy of Steffi Graf's seven, sits almost halfway to Martina Navratilova's nine.
Before that 2005 title, she'd won only one tournament that year, in Istanbul, beating nobody ranked higher than 39th. Before this 2007 title, she'd had to recover from an injured left wrist and won only one tournament, in Memphis, beating nobody higher than 17th.
Wimbledon helps her "get that kind of serenity within herself," her father said.
"She loves the grass. She loves the event. She loves the people here," said her boyfriend, Hank Kuehne, a PGA golfer.
She even has Wimbledon rituals, alongside younger sister Serena. They "slept too much" this year to go strictly by tradition, Venus said, but they usually go to the same Indian restaurant every year the first night, the same Thai restaurant the second night. They watch a Wimbledon video. They have a powwow where they discuss "how we're going to play, what we're going to do, how we're going to do it."
To those routines, add this sight from Saturday sunshine: Venus Williams striding onto Centre Court with the traditional bouquet of finalists' flowers for the sixth time in the last eight years. Even as the No. 23-seeded player, even as a scrapper who had to pull out wins from behind in the first and third rounds, she walked first, the overwhelming favorite, Wimbledon healing her again.
Trailing walked Bartoli, actually seeded higher, ranked No. 19, playing her first Grand Slam final after her first Grand Slam semifinal and her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Having beaten No. 1 Justine Henin in a shocking semifinal and given serious credit to the sight of actor Pierce Brosnan in the audience, Bartoli went Brosnan-less this time, though he'd sent her flowers and a note. Her first 21 Grand Slam tournaments had yielded zero appearances beyond the third round, but the 22nd got a fourth round and the 23rd, this final. She looked understandably nervous going down, 3-0, to Williams, and then reassured after evening the match at 3-3.
She won two games thereafter, but she did win fans, helping the audience do the wave while Williams got treatment for a strained left leg. She just couldn't get many balls past Williams or do much with Williams' serve, which "sometimes was hurting my wrist so bad because the ball was coming so fast to me," Bartoli said.
So when the 22-year-old Frenchwoman could not handle the 124 mph on the second match point, Williams smiled hugely en route to the net and turned to look to her family, including Serena, in the Friends Box. In a veritable Academy Awards speech, she thanked her family and her trainers and Billie Jean King and seemingly everybody under the sun.
She'd come an especially long way from 17 to 27.
"I appreciate being healthy, being able to have a chance just to play," she said.
"When did that change?" went the next question.
"You learn as you live life," she said.