Saturday, July 7, 2007

Venus Williams wins Wimbledon in style

Marion Bartoli, playing better than the finalists in the last two Grand Slam women's finals, did not have enough game or--perhaps more important--enough speed, to do much damage to Venus Williams in today's Wimbledon final. Williams, who came close to losing in both the first and third rounds, went on a roll once she got to the round of 16, playing incredible grass court tennis, and today was no different. Bartoli gave it her best, and lost the first set just 4-6, but her formidable serve was off today, and she was unable to position herself to do the kind of damage she did earlier in the tournament. It was a relatively easy win for Williams, at 6-4, 6-1.

I picked Williams as a dark horse to win the tournament, but there were people who said from the beginning that she would take it. With her huge serve, superb athleticism, fast pick-ups, and booming groundstokes, Williams is a grass court player to be feared by all. She now has four Wimbledon titles, putting her in grand company: Martina Navratilova won nine, Steffi Graf won seven, and Billie Jean King won four. Both Navratilova and King were in the stands when Williams won her fourth today.

This has been an incredibly competitive Wimbledon tournament for the women, with some very well-played, exciting matches. It is the best Grand Slam tournament I have seen in a long time.

There was no shortage of drama. The defending champion, Amelie Mauresmo, went out in the round of 16. Serena Williams sustained a very painful injury in her round of 16 match, but then went on to win it. Jelena Jankovic and Lucie Safarova played a set (the second) in their third round match that was one of the best sets of tennis one could ever hope to see. If you missed this match and you have Wimbledon Live, by all means, watch it--or at least watch the second set.

And then there was Marion Bartoli, who--in my opinion--is still the big story of this Wimbledon tournament. Bartoli's career had been stalled because of repeated injuries. For a while, she seemed to be retiring from more matches than she played. But last year, everything started to come together, and the Frenchwoman who plays Monica Seles style (in more ways than one) and who has the strangest service motion you will ever see, began quietly knocking her opponents out of tournaments. She won three tournaments last year--the first three she had ever won--which should have signaled something to fans and the sports media, but apparently it did not. Just last month, Bartoli reached the round of 16 at the French Open, though every commentator today said that she had never gotten past a third round in a Grand Slam. (You have to wonder what they are doing that is so important that they cannot be bothered to check the records, or why they wouldn't know that, anyway--I did.)

Bartoli's stunning upsets of world number 3 Jelena Jankovic and world number 1 Justine Henin were more than memorable, and on the way to accomplishing these difficult tasks, she also managed to take out Shahar Peer and Michaella Krajicek. I don't think anyone will be making fun of Bartoli's unorthodox serve and peculiar training regimen for a while. There is now some pressure on her to perform well in the U.S. Open series. Grass is obviously her surface, but her style of game should also translate well to a hard court. And pressure does not seem to bother Bartoli very much. One sportswriter referred to her as "an ambitious, two-handed terror." Here's hoping she progresses even more and picks up a tournament win soon. She was the most exciting factor in this year's Wimbledon, and a joy to watch.

In the meantime, number 1 doubles seeds Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur have been eliminated by Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. Stosur and partner Bob Bryan had to withdraw from mixed doubles because Stosur has been suffering with a viral infection. In the other semifinal, Cara Black and Liezel Huber defeated Alicia Molik and Mara Santangelo--winners of the French Open--6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

Player of the day: Venus Williams, who proved one more time that you can never, ever count a Williams sister out.


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