AP Was There: Serena beats Venus for 1st Wimbledon title

July 7, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this July 6, 2002, file photo, Venus, left, and Serena Williams hold their trophies after the women's singles final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Serena won the match 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 to win the championship. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
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FILE - In this July 6, 2002, file photo, Venus, left, and Serena Williams hold their trophies after the women's singles final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Serena won the match 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 to win the championship. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

EDITOR’S NOTE — Tennis history is filled with wonderful rivalries, and so many are remembered because of matchups in Wimbledon finals. The Associated Press is republishing stories about a handful of such matches while the canceled grass-court Grand Slam tournament was supposed to be played. One memorable head-to-head rivalry is a sibling rivalry: Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams. Of their nine meetings in Grand Slam finals, four came at Wimbledon. The following story, about their first title match there, was sent July 6, 2002.



AP Tennis Writer

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — At the trophy ceremony following the first one-family final at Wimbledon in 118 years, Venus Williams leaned over to younger sister Serena and whispered.

“You have to curtsy,” Venus said. “Did you know that?”

It was the only time Saturday that there was any need to coach Serena — now No. 1 in the world and her own home.

In a two-sided display of powerful shotmaking that featured more stellar strokes than their title matches at the U.S. Open and French Open combined, Serena won her second straight Grand Slam title by beating two-time defending champion Venus 7-6 (4), 6-3 at the All England Club.

“My Dad always said that one day we’d be playing in the finals of Wimbledon, in the finals of the U.S. Open. Just the big ones,” Serena said. “And here we were, 10, 15 years later.”

Their previous eight matches tended to be more lackluster than blockbuster. But each Williams was at the top of her game Saturday, particularly in the first set. With dueling grunts from the baseline, they aimed for the lines — and hit them.

It might not have been an all-time classic, but the play was downright impressive.

And now there’s little doubt that Serena is No. 1, which she will be for the first time in Monday’s new rankings. She didn’t drop a set at Wimbledon, has won a tour-best 19 straight matches, and is 36-3 in 2002 with five titles.

Plus, she’s beaten her sister three times in a row to pull within 5-4 in their pro careers.

“It’s not fun losing, no matter who you lose to. Doesn’t matter,” said Venus, 0-3 vs. Serena in 2002 and 41-3 against everyone else. “It’s not something that I’m going to get used to or try to adjust to because I’m not one for losing often.”

At 20, Serena is 15 months younger.

“I just wanted Wimbledon,” she said after stopping her sister’s 20-match winning streak at the All England Club. “I wanted to become a member of so much prestige, so much history.

“I want to be a part of history.”

She’s well on her way, with three major titles — she captured the family’s first at the 1999 U.S. Open. A Williams has won seven of the past 12 Grand Slam tournaments.

Two hours after the singles final, they returned to Centre Court and reached the doubles final by beating Anna Kournikova and Chanda Rubin 6-7 (3), 6-0, 6-3.

It’s unlikely any woman — other than the other Williams — would have tracked down some of the shots hit in their singles matchup Saturday.

“It was really fun,” Serena said. “We were really serving and returning. Venus was running down balls. I was running down a lot of balls, too. It was a good match to watch.”

It came down to two key statistics. Serena had more winners, 20-14, and Venus had more double faults, 6-2.

The last came on break point in the eighth game of the second set, on a serve that fluttered over the net at 67 mph and landed 6 inches wide. Quite out of character for four-time major champion Venus, who regularly tops 100 mph but had a sore right shoulder. She stretched it during the last changeover and after the match.

“I noticed it. Definitely,” Serena said. “If I’m a competitor, I’m going to have to notice it. Unfortunately, it’s like a war out there. If there’s a weakness, someone’s going to have to be attacked.”

On Sunday, No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt will face No. 28 David Nalbandian for the men’s title. Nalbandian is the first player to reach the final in his Wimbledon debut in the Open era. He advanced by finishing off a rain- and darkness-delayed 7-6 (2), 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 6-2 semifinal victory over Xavier Malisse.

The all-Williams final was the first between siblings at Wimbledon since the very first edition in 1884, when Maud and Lillian Watson wore hats and long dresses.

Settling Grand Slam titles is nothing new to Venus and Serena.

They met in the U.S. Open final last September (Venus won despite only seven winners), and in the French Open final last month (combining for 101 unforced errors in Serena’s victory).

While they avoided eye contact before and during Saturday’s match, both were rather demonstrative after its pivotal point.

With Serena ahead 4-3 in the tiebreaker, her shot slapped the net tape and went over. Venus got to the ball and responded with a drop shot that Serena whipped for a backhand passing winner down the line.

Serena pumped her fist; Venus raked the grass with her racket.

Serena ended the set three points later with a 100 mph ace that curled like the tail of a Q.

The second set was less spectacular, and was pretty much over in the sixth game, when Venus double-faulted to give Serena a break point, then put a forehand into the net to make it 4-2.

Serena ceded the next game with four errors (she totaled 25, Venus 22), but she broke to 5-3 and served out the match.

When it ended on a netted return, Serena dropped her racket by the baseline, and went to the net, where Venus draped an arm around her shoulder. Venus sat down, letting Serena soak in the spotlight and standing ovation.

Now Serena’s replica Venus Rosewater Dish — that’s the name of the winner’s plate — will sit right near Venus’ two. And their other five Grand Slam singles awards.

“At least I know that sometimes,” Venus said, “I can look at the trophy.”