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Serena proves up to the challenge

Inconsistent Williams beats Molik, 7-6 (4), 6-3, but Wimbledon history is made with the ending.

June 28, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to the Times

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Wednesday marked a historic day for England, for Great Britain and, indeed, the world.

It brought the first Wimbledon match to end on a Hawk-Eye challenge.

About 90 minutes after Tony Blair resigned as prime minister to the Queen seven miles northeast, a woman from the former English penal colony of Australia smacked a forehand up the line in an attempt to thwart Serena Williams' third match point.

Alicia Molik's shot landed just wide, and the lineswoman barked, "Out!"

Williams backhanded the shot anyway, whereupon Molik gamely returned that shot, whereupon Williams rushed forward and volleyed a winner into the forehand corner to win the match again and move to the third round.

The two players met at the net for the handshake, but then, so did chair umpire Sandra de Jenken, who had climbed down surreally for a three-woman chat. De Jenken told Molik that her penultimate shot had drawn an out call, and that if she liked, she could challenge that out call under the Hawk-Eye system that's new to Wimbledon.

"I told her, I said, 'You may as well,' " Williams said. "'I would have challenged it too. I'm not upset. I'm not going to hold it against you.' She was like, 'OK.' "

Then, in a 21st-century moment on Court No. 1, Williams, Molik, the Williams family and everybody turned to the video screen against a wall behind a corner of the court, so as to retrace the path of Molik's shot by computer simulation. The audience watched silently, unlike on Centre Court, where the latest Wimbledon tradition has audiences making a long sound until the screen reveals the verdict.

"OUT," the Court No. 1 screen revealed, and the two shook hands again, both giggling, Molik wrapping an arm around Williams' shoulder in gratitude.

The score was 7-6 (4), 6-3, Williams rallying from a 4-1 deficit in the first set, rallying from a 4-2 deficit in the first-set tiebreaker, and giving herself a "six" out of 10 for the match overall.

She'd also got mad at herself, her "Come on!" count reaching three in the first set, including just after her 121-mph ace up the middle at 6-4 in the tiebreaker.

She again pined away for her older sister Venus' more measured personality.

"It's so weird," she said. "We're so close. We have complete opposite personalities almost. I guess it works well. Geminis and Libras are like a perfect match. That's what I credit it to."

While trying to protract her Agassi-an surge from No. 140 at the year's outset all the way to No. 7 at the moment, she did play imaginatively, three times crafting winners off drop shots against Molik, the 26-year-old veteran of 32 Grand Slam tournaments.

Thereby did Williams' coach and father, Richard, claim his daughter has one of the two best drop shots in the world.

He also suggested the umpire might become "persona non grata" for proactively reminding players of the challenge option, this, three years after Venus Williams' second-round loss in which chair umpire Ted Watts got sacked after mistakenly giving a tiebreaker point to opponent Karolina Sprem.

The Hawk-Eye system debuted at the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2007. It has lent a techno edge to Wimbledon, with its screens adorning Centre Court and Court No. 1 in a way that might've made Fred Perry -- the iconic English tennis hero -- cringe.

Some players including defending champion Amelie Mauresmo and two-time finalist Andy Roddick have suggested it adds a fan dimension -- a "buzz," Roddick put it -- watching the computer image of the ball retrace its path to its computer-image destination.

Roddick, who got in a second-round, straight-set win over Thailand's Danai Udomchoke before late-afternoon rain ditched the rest of the day, keeps saying it prevents "leaving the court with a bunch of questions in your head."

Where the two biggest courts have the technology, the other 17 courts do not, and Venus Williams' first-round match Tuesday against Alla Kudryavtseva brimmed with some old-fashioned resentment, especially from Kudryavtseva.

In a third set she lost 7-5, the Russian protested twice, visited the chair and slammed a ball against the wall.

Asked if she'd wished for Hawk-Eye then, Venus Williams said, "I was not thinking about that at all, no."

There's that measured personality.

Asked if she approves of the addition, she said, "Update. Don't be late. Why not?"


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