Venus Soars to Floor Davenport and Emulate Gibson

Published July 9th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Venus Williams became only the second black women's singles champion in Wimbledon history Saturday after beating defending champion Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) in a 1hr 23min all-American battle. 

On clinching victory after Davenport fired a return into the net Venus raised her arms aloft and raced into the crowd to embrace sister Serena, whom she had beaten in an historic semi-final, and father Richard. 

Saying her childhood dream of winning the tournament had come true, Venus hugged Serena, the US Open reigning champion, as Mr Williams came to greet her following an exciting, if error-strewn, encounter which captivated the Centre Court crowd. 

The new champion, having finally captured her first Grand Slam title to emulate her younger sibling, could hardly contain her excitement and happiness after lifting the famous plate and securing a winner's cheque for 430,000 pounds (690,000 dollars). 

"It's really great because I've been working so hard all my life to be here. 

"This is unbelievable and it is better than the men's cup in my opinion!" she added to gales of laughter from the crowd as she waved the trophy. 

"You have to stay calm. It's not finished until the last point, no matter how close you get. 

"I'm proud - I got the job done." 

Venus joked she had her ball gown ready for the winners' ball which follows the Championships. 

"I bought my gown before I came here because I was determined to get this," smiled the 20-year-old, who became the first Afro-American winner since Althea Gibson lifted the title in 1957 and 1958. 

Asked when she was sure she would win the title she flashed a big grin and said: "When I bought my dress." 

The only other black woman to contest the final was Zina Garrison, who lost the previous all-American final in 1990 to Martina Navratilova. 

Venus, who admitted to being inspired by thoughts of adding to the legacy of both Gibson and Garrison, will accompany either six-time men's champ Pete Sampras or Australia's Pat Rafter to the ball after their final on Sunday afternoon. 

Venus said Serena, whom she described as "the best player in the draw", had told her: "'Great job'. She was really getting emotional trying to hold it in." 

The Williams have now become the first sisters ever to both hold Grand Slam titles. 

Asked about her dance of joy at the end, she smiled broadly and told reporters: "That's from my ballet classes when I was a kid!" 

World number two Davenport, suffering from a cold as well as back and thigh problems gamely shrugged off her huge disappointment. 

"I knew she was playing really well throughout the tournament. I started to get back in the second set but she was too strong and I congratulate her on winning her first Grand Slam. 

"I'm not going to walk away hanging my head and I hope I'll be back here many times to try to win it again," said the 24-year-old Californian after failing in her bid to become only the fourth woman to defend the title successfully in the Open Era after Billie Jean King, Navratilova and Steffi Graf, her victim here in last year's final. 

Davenport was generous when told that Richard Williams had praised her as a good sport and a worthy competitor. 

"That's nice of him - but she won the match today. She deserves all the headlines. 

"I tried hard to get back into it - but it didn't fall into place today," added Davenport. 

Venus took the second set tiebreak after failing to serve out at 5-4 after a welter of breaks, eight following on from three in the opening set. 

Venus was playing only her second Grand Slam final after a shock run to the US Open final three years ago whereas Davenport already had three crowns under her belt in as many finals. 

While Davenport was not match fit, Venus herself was playing only her fourth tournament of the year after six months on the sidelines with tendinitis in both wrists as she completed a glorious victory. 

A little history was made when 12-year-old Raju Tital, an orphan from Calcutta and nominated by a children's charity chosen by All England Club patron the Duchess of Kent, tossed the coin to see who would serve first and Davenport elected to receive. 

The weather held up - just - as Venus shrugged off the loss of the opening game on her own serve to reap two breaks of her opponent's as she made a confident start, though her play was by far from error free. 

Davenport incredibly lost her first five points on her own serve, throwing in an early double fault. 

It was difficult to believe that it was Davenport who had experienced the final atmosphere previously and her lesser mobility was a huge disadvantage as she was made to run around the court. 

A forehand which landed long left Davenport 1-3 down and Venus held serve for 4-1, her vicious strokes and ability to take the ball early the prime factors behind her solid start. 

As well as capture her fourth Grand Slam crown, Davenport was bidding to close the gap at the top of the world rankings on Swiss miss Martina Hingis, whom Venus had dumped out at the quarter-final stage here. 

Davenport appeared with her left thigh heavily strapped, suggesting she would have problems pushing off her serve. 

She also had back problems coming into the event which plagued her at Roland Garros, where she went out in the opening round five weeks ago 

And she increasingly looked uncomfortable as the second set progressed, moving more and more awkwardly. 

Yet at times Venus also had an equally debilitating problem - in her case inconsistency. She only just shrugged it off in time to take the tie-break after a fine first set showing. 

The inconsistency was never better illustrated than when she came out to serve for the match at 6-3, 5-4. 

She promptly served her sixth and seventh double faults as she gifted Davenport three break points, then hit an ace at 180 kph only to hit a forehand long as her rival briefly pulled the match out of the fire. 

But in the tiebreak the heat was back on as Venus decided to pull Davenport right around the court and the strategy paid off as she claimed her 10th career singles title – (AFP) 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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