Venus Williams Captures Wimbledon

Saturday, July 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Venus Williams thrilled at the sight of Zina Garrison playing in the Wimbledon final 10 years ago.

As a scrawny 10-year-old who already had pop in her game, she was amazed to see a black woman on TV playing on the most famous lawn in the world, while she and her sister Serena whacked balls on the concrete courts of Compton, Calif.

At Centre Court on Saturday, Garrison sat near Serena in the guest box and watched Venus win Wimbledon by beating defending champion Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-6 (3) with the kind of flair that Althea Gibson showed when she became the first black women's champion in 1957 and 1958.

Gibson had given Garrison a message for Venus before the match to remember to bend her knees. It's the oldest advice in tennis, and easy enough to forget when a match gets tense. But Garrison decided not to pass it on to Venus because she didn't want to make her nervous.

Instead, Garrison wrote Venus a note saying, ``The time is now.''

``The one thing I knew was that just being there isn't enough,'' said Garrison, who lost to Martina Navratilova in 1990. ``You have to win it. It was very emotional for me out there, and it was pretty amazing to have an African American win the event.''

Gibson, 72, lives in East Orange, N.J. She was too ill to travel to Wimbledon but was very much on Williams' mind.

``I knew she was watching when Serena won the U.S. Open,'' Williams said. ``She said that she was happy that she got to see another black person win it in her lifetime. So now I think it's really a privilege for me to win this Wimbledon while she's still alive.''

Williams came to Wimbledon so confident that she would follow in Gibson's footsteps that she dashed out to a mall and bought her champions dinner ball gown before she left home.

It was her way of making a promise to herself, her way to push herself to fulfill her childhood dreams and her father's prophecy when she was born.

Venus and Serena Williams were raised to be champions, and on this cool, cloudy day the big sister claimed the Wimbledon silver salver — the aptly named ``Venus Rosewater Dish'' — for a family trophy case that already has the little sister's 1999 U.S. Open cup.

It's the first time in tennis history two sisters have each won a Grand Slam championship.

``We're breaking records and we're moving forward,'' Venus Williams said. ``I always expected to win Grand Slams. This was meant to be.''

When the moment she had foreseen arrived, Williams hopped up and down giddily, then scampered up the steps from Centre Court to hug Serena and their father and coach, Richard.

Serena and Richard fought back tears. Venus simply glowed.

When the vivacious 20-year-old returned to the court for the trophy presentation, she twirled in half-circles as she once did in ballet classes, laughing and waving her arms. Her utter joy carried over to a crowd that laughed with her.

Everyone knew they were seeing something special: the blossoming of a young woman who could dominate tennis for years along with her sister.

``It's really great because I've worked so hard all my life to be here,'' Williams said after accepting the trophy from the Duchess of Kent. ``It's strange. I always dream I win a Grand Slam. When I wake up, it's a nightmare. Now that I've got it, I don't have to wake up like that any more.''

Gazing at the huge sterling silver dish, embossed with an image of the goddess Venus and other mythological figures, plus the names of past champions, Williams said, ``It's better than the men's cup in my opinion.''

She earned the trophy and a $650,000 winner's check by beating three of the best players in the game, Martina Hingis, Serena, and Davenport — all only a few months after coming back from a six-month layoff due to tendinitis in both wrists.

She showed in this tournament that she is not only healthy, but vastly improved from her first visit to a Grand Slam final at the 1997 U.S. Open, when she lost to Hingis.

``You knew eventually she was going to win a Grand Slam,'' Davenport said. ``It's nice to see the monkey get off her back. Both Serena and Venus are going to win more Grand Slam titles. Venus is going to be a lot tougher to beat now that she has this first one under her belt.''

Against Davenport, who was struggling with a strained back and left leg, Williams displayed ferocious, accurate forehands that had never been part of her repertoire. She always had one of the best two-fisted backhands in the game and a serve that could crank out 120 mph aces, but the addition of the new weapon made Williams more formidable.

She unleashed that forehand for a clean winner at the end of a long rally to begin the key break of Davenport's serve to 3-1 in the first set.

Yet more than merely hammering shots, Williams showed she has developed a deft touch on drop shots and a sense of creativity on the court as she exploited Davenport's lack of range.

When Davenport tried to break back in the final game of the opening set, and had Williams down 0-30 after a double-fault, Williams responded with two whistling winners from the baseline, one a backhand, the next a forehand, then drilled a service winner at Davenport's body. At deuce, Williams hit another forehand winner, then watched Davenport whack a forehand 10 feet long to drop the set in 32 minutes.

``It's tough when your opponent is hitting the ball so hard, on the lines,'' Davenport said. ``That tends to make (the ailments) a little worse. It was just really hard to combat the power that she was giving me and try and run down enough balls on the grass.''

The second set sank into a mess of eight broken service games until they arrived at 5-5. Williams served for the match at 5-4, but quickly fell to love-40 after a couple of double-faults and an error. Though she managed an ace for a brief reprieve, her forehand let her down on the next point.

``I didn't really think I was going to lose serve,'' Williams said. ``In the end, I think my technique broke down. But I just wasn't going to let it hold me back today.

After Davenport won the first point of the tiebreaker, Williams took over, sweeping the next five points, and finally clinching the match after 1 hour, 23 minutes when Davenport netted a volley.

Williams saw in the victory justification for all her efforts throughout her life.

``I had a lot of sacrifices, I had a lot of injuries, and I had a lot of tough losses, too,'' she said. ``But I didn't let that get to me. I kept working hard and I kept believing.''

She believed so much she bought the ball gown just before leaving Florida three weeks ago.

``I was scrambling around the mall, finding a dress,'' she said. ``It was an extra incentive because if I didn't win, I wouldn't get to wear this wonderful dress. I picked it up the day we left.''

Serena bought a gown, too, thinking she might win her second Grand Slam title. Now they both can dress up for the champions dinner, since the sisters are in the women's doubles final Sunday.

They have already won two Grand Slam doubles titles together, and will try for a third against Ai Sugiyama and Julie-Halard-Decugis. They've also won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles apiece.

``We're racking them up now,'' Venus said.

At the heart of Venus and Serena's self-confidence is a sense that anything is possible, that any goal can be achieved with enough hard work.

Richard Williams, who grew up picking cotton in Louisiana, knew nothing about tennis when he set out to make his daughters champions. He bought a book on the game, studied pictures of the proper strokes, read advice in magazines and set about to teach Venus and Serena on public courts when they were little more than toddlers in Compton.

When Venus was about 9 years old, he took her to Chris Evert's house in Florida and asked if she could look at her trophies, including the three Evert at won at Wimbledon.

``Her father came and took numerous pictures of her,'' Evert recalled Saturday. ``She was just thrilled to be able to touch a Wimbledon trophy.''