Williams’ Win Serves As Tennis’ Wake-up Call

By Bryan Burwell
Updated: July 3, 2005

Venus Williams (left) defeated Lindsey Davenport in Saturday's Wimbledon ladies singles' 

Venus Williams (left) defeated Lindsey Davenport in Saturday’s Wimbledon ladies singles’ final

ST. LOUIS — From the moment we first heard of them – at first, like some persistent whisper; at last, with almost disbelieving eyes – Venus and Serena Williams have been so many things to so many people in the world of professional tennis.

They were the bold athletic experiment, forever swimming against tennis’ strong traditional currents. They were the social experiments trying to breach the walls of one of our stodgiest sports institutions. They were the ultrasensitive conoclasts who saw ghosts and demons where none existed.

They were the future. They were the past. They were up. They were down. They were as invincible as Kevlar. They were fragile as glass. They were the best thing that ever happened to tennis with their Jordanesque athleticism and their Tigeresque urban marketability. They were distracted divas wasting their breathless athletic gifts.

Yet at times like this – with Venus engaged in an historic Wimbledon championship duel with No. 1 ranked Lindsay Davenport on Saturday – we are reminded of one other thing about the Williams girls that is undeniable: As long as one of them seems to always perk up just in time for another Grand Slam final, the Williams girls, and the resurgent Davenport, are the best reasons why reports of the demise of American women’s tennis are greatly exaggerated.

With Venus’ historic 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 triumph against Davenport in the women’s final, the Williams sisters have captured two of the first three Grand Slam titles of the 2005 season (Serena won the Australian Open).

For 2 hours and 45 minutes, Venus and Davenport engaged in the longest and perhaps most dramatic and competitive duels in women’s championship history at the storied All England Lawn Tennis Club. Venus was so blown away with emotion after winning her third Wimbledon championship that when the ultra-competitive contest with Davenport finally ended, Venus began leaping up and down almost uncontrollably.

The 25-year-old Williams could barely catch her breath. She dropped to her knees to touch the soft green grass, then rose again, clutching her chest, holding her head, leaning back, then folding over at her waist.

A few moments later when they handed her the Wimbledon championship dish, the same weak-kneed, unbridled joy swept over her, making it almost impossible to hold the dish over her head. Venus just kept grinning and giggling like all those giddy teenage Russian girls left in her Wimbledon championship wake.

The 14th-seeded Williams, two years removed from being the world’s No. 1 player, had played impressively en route to her title. She dispatched top-ranked Davenport and defending champion and world’s No. 2 player Maria Sharapova in the semifinals. It was the strongest statement she could make about how serious she is about returning to No. 1.

Due to injuries, a tragic death in the family (her half-sister was murdered last year) and her off-the-court interests, Venus had gone 13 consecutive Grand Slams without a title. The tennis world was aflutter about how Venus and Serena appeared not to be taking their profession seriously enough. They seemed to be all over the place, dabbling in modeling, acting and fashion design. It seemed the last thing on their minds was continuing to dominate the tennis world they already had dominated so quickly and easily.

The funny thing is, even as Serena and Venus had their personal and physical struggles, everyone in the tennis world knew they were the 500-pound elephants in the corner. They were difficult to ignore, and everyone kept wondering when, or if, they were going to wake up again.

Now the Williams name is on two of the three 2005 Grand Slam trophies, and with the U.S. Open coming up next month on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, N.Y. (Serena’s favorite surface), you have to wonder if Serena is back in Florida getting healthy and properly inspired by big sis’s return to form.