Venus defends championship

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- The pose was familiar and demure: Against a backdrop of Wimbledon green, Venus Williams grinned and held the huge championship dish aloft, her left knee bent in an elegant curtsy for the cheering crowd.

The performance was familiar, too.

With the ruthless aggression that characterizes her best efforts, Williams won her second consecutive Wimbledon title Sunday by beating Belgian Justine Henin 6-1, 3-6, 6-0.

Crushing her serves and charging the net at every opportunity, Williams overpowered a smaller, less experienced foe and showed she's back at the top of her game after slumping the first half of this year.

''I love Wimbledon,'' she said. ''It's going to be a great place for me for years to come.''

Both finals were delayed one day by rain. Patrick Rafter will play for the men's title Monday against Goran Ivanisevic, who advanced Sunday by beating Englishman Tim Henman 7-5, 6-7 (6), 0-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a match that took three hours spread over three days.

Henman lost in the semifinals for the third time in four years, again ending his bid to become the first Englishman to play in the Wimbledon final since 1938. Disappointed Britons were left to applaud Williams, who was a bit subdued herself in victory.

When Williams won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last year, she leaped giddily across the grass. This time she staged a more restrained celebration, befitting a player who has become accustomed to championships.

''I couldn't leap because it was raining a little bit, and I didn't want to fall,'' she joked to the crowd during the trophy ceremony.

A few drops of rain fell as the final game began, and Williams rushed to close out the win. On the first match point she smoked a service return that jammed Henin, who could only dribble a backhand to the net.

A smiling Williams waved and swung her fists at the crowd, then hopped happily beside her changeover chair. She's familiar with the routine: Since July 2000, Williams has won three major singles titles and two Olympic gold medals.

For the latest triumph, Williams received $647,500. Henin earned $323,750.

Williams said the one-day wait because of rain didn't bother her, but her father and coach, Richard, suggested otherwise.

''The last two days I have never seen Venus so quiet in all my life,'' the elder Williams said with a laugh. ''Today when she walked on the court was the first time I've seen her smile. I thought, 'After two days, she smiles.'''

After six months of mostly disappointing results, she has reason to smile.

In January, Williams endured the most lopsided loss of her career, 6-1, 6-1 to Martina Hingis in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Then she was upset last month by Barbara Schett in the opening round at the French Open.

But Wimbledon rejuvenated her game, just as it did a year ago, when the tournament marked her start of a 35-match winning streak. Williams' serve and dominating presence at the net make grass her best surface.

''I'm willing to move forward when I get to Wimbledon,'' Williams said. ''At other tournaments, maybe not as much.''

She's 6-foot-1 and looked even taller standing across the court from the 5-6 Henin, a 19-year-old speedster who showed considerable poise in her first Grand Slam final.

It was Williams who appeared nervous at the start, double-faulting on the first two points. But from there she dominated with her serve, which reached 118 mph, and she faced only one break point.

The first set took just 20 minutes, but the match then became more competitive, and Henin took a 3-2 lead in the second set before yet another shower forced a 15-minute delay. The crowd was rooting for an upset by the slender Belgian with the ballcap and ponytail, and Centre Court erupted when she broke for a 5-3 lead.

She closed out the set, but that was the last game she won. Williams reasserted control with an headshaking array of big serves, return winners, overhead slams and deft volleys.

''When I came back at one set all, it was a great moment for me,'' Henin said. ''It was difficult after that because mentally she was stronger than me, and she had the experience that I didn't.''

Last year Williams became the first black woman to win Wimbledon since Althea Gibson in 1957-58. Now, like Gibson, she's a back-to-back champion -- the first since Steffi Graf in 1995-96.

''I think she can win Wimbledon a lot,'' Henin said.

Williams said the second victory meant even more than the first.

''I had to work a lot harder to win this one,'' she said. ''In my first rounds, I was really not playing very well.''

Following her semifinal win over Lindsay Davenport, Williams admitted she gets bored with practice and lacks the devotion to the game of such champions as Graf and Ivan Lendl. She enjoys fashion design, reading and other outside interests, and prefers a lighter tournament schedule than other top players, which can result in rusty performances.

Following Sunday's victory, Williams sheepishly confessed that her dedication to the game was especially lacking in the second half of 2000.

''I had about eight wonderful days of practice before Wimbledon that lasted me the whole year,'' she said. ''This year I'm going to practice more. I think I can capitalize better, just really work on more things in my game.''

That sounds like bad news for the rest of women's tennis.



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