Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Power of One

Everyone was assembled at Centre Court. Venus and Serena were there, too, ready to parse out the eighth Wimbledon Ladies title this decade won by a member of the Williams family. One sister had performed as if a steamroller for the entire fortnight, while the other so desired to be present on this day that she battled back from match point down on Thursday to assure it.

All the variables seemed right for a great match. But it didn't happen.

Throughout the 1st set, it was apparent that the opening stanza of this fourth all-Williams final at SW19 was simply a feeling out period. Both were matter-of-factly holding serve with ease in the early going until, up 4-3, Venus finally grabbed a lead in a Serena serve game and held two break points at 40/15. Serena managed to hold, and the contest went forward.

Little did we know that the match turned right there.

Serena got as close as 30/30 on Venus' serve at 5-5, but could get no nearer a break chance. The sisters went to a tie-break with just one game in the first twelve actually being contested, and another only mildly so. In the breaker, though, Serena got a mini-break to take a 3-1 lead, then held onto and built upon it. She soon led 6-2, and put away the tie-break at 7-3 with a lob over Venus to break the two-time defending champion's thirty-four set winning Wimbledon winning streak. Throughout the Sisters' head-to-head history, the winner of the opening set was 18-2 going into this final. History was set to hold up, too, as Venus' twenty-match unbeaten string at the All-England Club was the next symbol of her dominance to be toppled by her best friend.

After having failed to convert two chances to break Serena in the eight game of the match, then dropping the tie-break, Venus was no longer the same player who'd run roughshod over her six previous opponents during the fortnight. Serena wasn't demonstrably better in the 2nd set, but her level of play didn't drop, either. Venus' did. It only took a few games to be able to peer into the crystal ball and see Serena lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish for a third time rather than Venus doing so on a sixth occasion.

With the elder Williams' look of determination and confidence gone, the atmosphere was extremely subdued on Centre Court. How much of this change was caused by any potential problems with her still-wrapped knee, a few discombobulating slips on the grass behind the baseline, or simply the force of will of her younger sister it's hard to tell. It very likely could have been a bit of all of the above. No matter how the reasons were sliced and apportioned, though, the ultimate result of this match was by now unchangable... even more unstoppable, on this day, than all the greatness that the phrase "Venus on Centre Court" had implied just twenty-four hours beforehand.

Serena got her first break point chance on Venus' serve at 3-2 in the 2nd set. Venus converted it for her with a double-fault. Serena held at love to go up 5-2, then got more chances to break her sister to claim the match two games later. It was here that Venus finally started to resemble her previous self, and maybe Serena got just a tad tentative on a few points (at least one forehand that I can remember, when she safely hit the ball back to Venus in the center of the court rather than pulverizing it down the open line). It took Serena four match point to win the title, but everyone watching knew it was never going to be anything but a slight delay of the celebration. After waiting all day for a great match to break out, it was over.

Serena won 7-6/6-2, losing just eight points on serve and winning her first Wimbledon title in six years, the longest time between wins by a woman in the Open Era.


This latest slam title gives Serena eleven in her career, and moves her one win ahead of Venus (11-10) in their career series. But, maybe more importantly (not to mention intriguingly), she's currently the reigning champion at three of the four slams. Yet she's still #2 in the rankings behind Dinara Safina. With the Russian having gone a perfect three-for-three in '09 when it comes to being run out of a slam on a rail with very little fight coming from her side of the net, there's really no longer any reason for Serena to nudge and sarcastically cut down the legitimacy of Safina's #1 ranking (though, disappointingly, that's what she did after the match) between now and the U.S. Open. It's pretty clear who the best player in the world is at the moment, and it's highly likely that even the WTA computer might endorse the reality of it before everyone convenes in New York for the final slam of the season. Either way, something really needs to be done to make sure such a loophole ceases to exist... it's really something of an embarrassment for the women's game for a player with three slam wins in twelve months to NOT be ranked #1.

Last year, after losing to Venus in the Wimbledon final, the look on Serena's face alerted the world that the rest of the WTA field was in for some trouble at the Open a few months down the road. Not surprisingly, she won in NYC... then in Melbourne, too. Could you tell that Venus will now have the same drive to follow up her sister's slam with one of her own back home? Uh, no. Not really.

Venus hasn't reached a U.S. Open final since 2002, and hasn't won one since her back-to-back "Summer of Venus" titles in 2000-01. Venus's somewhat narrow focus makes Wimbledon HER special place to shine, with the rest of the season being "unimportant" to her if she can succeed there. Meanwhile, an intense need to be recognized as THE best player in the world serves to widen Serena's field of vision. EVERY slam has the potential to be Serena's proving ground. Today's result, and Serena's chance to get slam win #12 (which would tie her with Billie Jean King and Suzanne Lenglen for sixth on the all-time list) in the Open actually makes the successful defense of her '08 title there far more likely than that of Venus managing to make up for her lack of a new one at SW19 by taking the title at Ashe Stadium.

Still, it should be noted that the last time that only ONE Williams sister won a slam in a calendar year was 2003, which included the tail end of the "Serena Slam" in Melbourne than January.

But the Open is still a while away. No matter what happens at Flushing Meadows, the truth about the WTA Tour RIGHT NOW is that, in the post-Henin era that has for so many months produced what too many people have liked to denigrating dub a "power vacuum" in the women's game, Serena Williams has put a definitive period at the end of any sentence regarding the current hierarchy of women's tennis.

The "Power of One" has risen above ALL the rest... so much so that she made Venus Williams look ordinary at Wimbledon. What more can be said than that?

...Serena and Venus won the Women's Doubles later in the day, defeating Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs 7-6/6-4 to claim their ninth slam Doubles title as a duo, fourth SW19 crown (two in a row) and second slam title this year (w/ the Australian). the Girls singles final, Noppawan Lertcheewakarn showed that, for her, the second time was a charm. After losing to Laura Robson in last year's final, the #4-seeded Thai teen knocked off #1-seed Kristina Mladenovic 3-6/6-3/6-1 on Day 12. Tomorrow, the two will face each other again in the Girls Doubles final.

...#2 Nestor/Zimonjic defended their Men's Doubles title, knocking off the #1-seeded Bryan brothers in four sets in the final.

...and, finally, the "Decade's Best" edition for Wimbledon (2000-09) will be arriving soon.

#2 Serena Williams def. #3 Venus Williams/USA 7-6/6-2

#6 Andy Roddick/USA vs. #2 Roger Federer

#4 Williams/Williams (USA/USA def. #3 Stosur/Stubbs (AUS/AUS) 7-6/6-4

#2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB) def. #1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) 7-6/6-7/7-6/6-3

#1 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND) vs. #9 Groenefeld/Knowles (GER/BAH)

#4 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA def. #1 Kristina Mladeovic/FRA 3-6/6-3/6-1

Jordan Cox/USA vs. Andrey Kuznetsov/RUS

Lertcheewakarn/Peer (THA/AUS) vs. #2 Mladenovic/Njiric (FRA/CRO)

Herbert/Krawietz (FRA/GER) vs. Obry/Puget (FRA/FRA)

9...Martina Navratilova
8...Helen Wills-Moody
7...Steff Graf
7...Dorothy Lambert Chambers
6...Billie Jean King
6...Suzanne Lenglen
6...Blanche Bingley Hillyard
[Open Era]
9...Martina Navratilova
7...Steffi Graf
4...Billie Jean King
3...Chris Evert
2...Evonne Goolagong

24...Margaret Smith-Court (11-5-3-5)
22...Steffi Graf (4-6-7-5)
19...Helen Wills-Moody (0-4-8-7)
18...Martina Navratilova (3-2-9-4)
18...Chris Evert (2-7-3-6)
12...Billie Jean King (1-1-6-4)
12...Suzanne Lenglen (0-6-6-0)
11...SERENA WILLIAMS (4-1-3-3)

3...Maria Sharapova
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova
2...Amelie Mauresmo
1...Ana Ivanovic
1...Kim Clijsters
ALSO: Davenport-3

22...SERENA WILLIAMS (11/11)
18...VENUS WILLIAMS (7/11)
11...Virginia Ruano-Pascual (0/11)
9...Lisa Raymond (0/9)
8...Cara Black (0/8) #
#- Black to play in Mixed Final on Sunday

21...Martina Navratilova/Pam Shriver
14...Gigi Fernandez/Natasha Zvereva
8...Virginia Ruano-Pascual/Paola Suarez

*SERENA SLAM WINS...the hard way*
2005 Australian - Sharapova held match point in SF
2007 Australian - Petrova (3r) and Peer (QF) served for match
2009 Australian - Kuznetsova served for match in QF
2009 Wimbledon - Dementieva held match point in SF

2006 Yan Zi/Zheng Jie, CHN
2007 Liezel Huber, RSA
2008 Alona Bondarenklo/Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
2009 Sania Mirza, IND
2006 Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
2007 Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
2008 Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP
2009 Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP
2006 Yan Zi/Zheng Jie, CHN
2007 Cara Black, ZIM
2008 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2009 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
2006 Martina Navratilova, USA
2007 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
2008 Cara Black, ZIM

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #3 Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): #2 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Vesna Manasieva/RUS d. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA 6-7/6-4/6-1
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Ana Ivanovic/SRB d. Lucie Hradecka/CZE 5-7/6-2/8-6 (saved 2 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd. - Melanie Oudin/USA d. Jelena Jankovic/SRB 6-7/7-5/6-2
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): SF - Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva 6-7/7-5/8-6 (saved MP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN (1st Rd.-Schiavone/ITA)
IT GIRL: Sabine Lisicki/GER
MS. OPPORTUNITY: Elena Dementieva/RUS
CRASH & BURN: Maria Sharapova/RUS - lost to Gisela Dulko/ARG in 2nd Rd.
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Dinara Safina/RUS - in 4th Rd., down set and a break, then 3-0 in 3rd to Amelie Mauresmo/FRA; advanced to first Wimbledon SF
LAST BRIT STANDING: Elena Baltacha/GBR (2nd Rd.)
DOUBLES STARS Serena & Venus Williams/USA
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Timea Babos/HUN & Miyabi Inoue/JPN

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.


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