At Wimbledon, Venus' best better than the rest

WIMBLEDON, England -- Venus Williams giggled as she clutched the championship trophy against her chest, threw back her head and whooped at the sky.

Winning Wimbledon never gets old.

Williams won tennis' most prestigious tournament for the fourth time Saturday, beating surprising finalist Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1.

It was Williams' sixth Grand Slam title, and her first since winning Wimbledon in 2005. She was also the champion at the All England Club in 2000 and 2001.

At No. 31, Williams became the lowest-ranked women's winner in Wimbledon history. Plagued in recent years by injuries that sent her ranking sliding, she rediscovered her championship form this week on the surface that always seems to inspire her best efforts.

"It has been a long road back," Williams said during the trophy ceremony. "I brought it together here against some of the best players in the world, including Marion."

She lost 22 games in her final four matches, beating 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova on Wednesday, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova on Thursday and French Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic on Friday.

Venus Williams' game is clicking on all cylinders for two weeks at Wimbledon ...
"She loves the grass," said Williams' boyfriend, pro golfer Hank Kuehne. "And she loves the environment here."

Her father and coach, Richard, said that when his daughter was about 9, she declared she wanted to win Wimbledon more than anyone else.

"I think she can win three more," he said, "and I would be disappointed if she did not."

Williams is the fourth woman in the Open era to win four or more Wimbledon singles titles, joining Martina Navratilova (9), Steffi Graf (7) and Billie Jean King (4). King also won Wimbledon singles titles in 1966-67, before the Open era began in 1968.

On Sunday, Roger Federer will seek his fifth successive Wimbledon title against nemesis Rafael Nadal in a rematch of last year's final.

Williams' resurgence was reminiscent of the run to this year's Australian Open title by her sister Serena, who entered that tournament ranked 81st. Venus expressed gratitude to her sister -- among others -- during the trophy ceremony.
Serena, she inspires me," Venus said. "The Australian Open champion -- I wanted to be like her."

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Serena, eliminated by top-ranked Justine Henin in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, watched from the stands as Venus turned in a workmanlike performance punctuated by occasional brilliance. She chased down shots all over the court, and her varied shotmaking ranged from delicate slices to a fearsome backhand overhead slam.

While the tournament was plagued by rain for much of the past two weeks, the final took place right on schedule -- and in warm sunshine, the best weather of the fortnight.

Williams served out the first game at love, then broke serve when Bartoli double-faulted. They played 19 minutes before Bartoli won a game to make it 3-1, prompting cheers of encouragement from a Centre Court crowd eager for a competitive match.

And it was -- for a while. The Frenchwoman, playing in her first Grand Slam final, settled down to reach 3-all. But she double-faulted for the fourth time for set point, and Williams converted by charging forward to put away a backhand volley.

She kept up the pressure to start the second set, winning the first three games. Both players then requested medical timeouts -- Bartoli to have her left foot retaped, and Williams to have her upper left thigh taped.

"I'm so glad this is the last match, because I'm done. This is it. The leg is done, needs a break," she said. "Adrenaline sets in. After the match, it really started hurting."

Following the 11-minute interruption, the 19th-ranked Bartoli held serve to close to 3-1. She had rallied from a set down in her past three matches, including a shocking win Friday over Henin.

But this time, there would be no comeback.

Williams hit a backhand winner to break serve for 5-1, and closed out the victory with a 124-mph service winner that handcuffed a weary Bartoli.

The crowd roared as Williams raised her arms, grinned and, after shaking hands with her opponent, let out with an exultant "Woooooo!"

"Venus play some unbelievable tennis," Bartoli said. "I mean, she reached some balls like I never see one person reach some ball like that on a tennis court, and she would even hit it harder back to me.

"She served 120 miles on first serve. Sometimes it was hurting my wrist so bad, because the ball was coming so fast to me. So I really try my best I think, and I play a great match, but at the end she was just too good."

With Wimbledon paying equal prize money to men and women for the first time this year, Williams won $1.407 million. Bartoli received $703,500.

Williams has been among the most vocal proponents of equal prize money. She broached the subject during the trophy ceremony, paying tribute to Billie Jean King's role and prompting a roar of delight from the crowd.

"Thank you, All England Club - we're playing under equal terms," she said.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service


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