Saturday, July 2, 2005
Venus Williams captured her third Wimbledon title in the space of six years in a final of high drama and record length when she outlasted Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6, 9-7.
At 2 hours 45 minutes the match exceeded the previous mark for a women's final. In 1970, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King battled for 2 hours 28 minutes before Court won, 14-12, 11-9.
This was the 27th match between these two, and it turned out to be easily the most dramatic, with Davenport missing a match point at 5-4 in the third set, then needing to go off court for treatment to a back injury. Twice more she came within two points of what would have been her second Wimbledon win, before her spirit and her legs gave out against an opponent who simply refused to recognise the possibility of defeat.
As Davenport's weakly-struck forehand plopped into the net, Williams shrieked and leapt high into the air, a process she repeated after receiving the Venus Rosewater Dish from the Duke of Kent.
As 14th seed, Williams is the lowest-seeded player in the Open era to win Wimbledon, a victory which sits well with her triumphs of 2000 and 2001. In the following two years she was runner-up to her younger sister Serena but a persistent stomach strain and consequent lack of form had pulled her down the rankings.
Under grey skies the match got underway an hour later than scheduled, because of the delayed men's semi-final between Andy Roddick and Thomas Johansson. The delay seemed to cast a cloud over the play, too. Perhaps it was because they have played each other so many times before, but their was little spark in the opening set. Davenport twice broke a listless Williams to lead 5-2 before Venus pulled herself together, won nine points in a row and threatened to make a fight of the set after all.
Davenport fought off the counter-attack to close out the first set in 33 minutes, but this was merely an overture to an afternoon of the highest drama. Williams held, and missed, a break point at 5-4 in the second set. Davenport promptly served for that set at 6-5, only to be broken comprehensively without collecting a single point. A resurgent Williams then ran up a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak before winning it 7-4 to set the scene for the final, gripping set.
The balance tipped Davenport's way when she broke for a 4-2 lead, as the crowd buzzed in expectation of Lindsay going on to win. However, she was clearly in some physical distress and after being broken for 3-4, Davenport left the court for treatment to a back injury.
Though visibly in pain, Davenport held serve on her return and in the next game stood at match point after Williams perpetrated her ninth double-fault, a weak error which also betrayed her nerves. But a thumping backhand got her out of trouble, at least temporarily. Twice more Davenport held serve to stay in front, twice Williams skated perilously close to disaster, two points from defeat in two successive service games.
But the outcome was predictable as Davenport, exhausted and ailing, finally dropped her serve to fall 7-8 behind. This time there was no mistake from Williams, and she was even able to afford the luxury of a 10th double-fault on her way to a stunning victory.
Written by Ronald Atkin