WIMBLEDON, England – Improbable as this Wimbledon title might have seemed, Venus Williams knew it could happen.
Far away as that trophy might have appeared only last week, Williams knew she had the game and the grit to grab it.
Oh, how her serves and strokes sizzle on the grass of Centre Court.
With a dominant run through the latter rounds, Williams became the lowest-ranked woman to win Wimbledon, beating Marion Bartoli of France 6-4, 6-1 Saturday for her fourth championship at the All England Club.
“I was really motivated because no one picked me to win. They didn’t even say, ‘She can’t win.’ They weren’t even talking about me,” said Williams, who reached No. 1 in 2002 but entered Wimbledon ranked No. 31. “I never would doubt myself that way.”
Even after missing time with a left wrist injury? Even after being two points from defeat against a teenager ranked 59th in the first round? Even after trailing 5-3 in the final set against someone ranked 71st in the third?
There really wasn’t a smidgen of surprise that she once more got to clutch the Venus Rosewater Dish, as the Wimbledon champion’s plate happens to be known?
“For me? No,” she said. “I just have to go out there and execute. I have the experience and everything to do it.”
It was similar to the performance turned in by Williams’ younger sister Serena in January, when she won the Australian Open while ranked 81st. Clearly, rankings mean nothing when it comes to the Williams siblings. Nor does recent form.
If they are in a tournament, they can win it.
“As long as we’re fit,” the 27-year-old Williams said, “we just have so much more to give on the court.”
Bartoli, who hits two-fisted forehands and backhands, learned that lesson quickly.
She hadn’t faced Williams anywhere, let alone on grass – where balls skid more than they bounce – and Bartoli quickly discovered it was like nothing she’d ever experienced on a tennis court.
By the end, she was flexing her wrists and shaking her hands, trying to alleviate the sting from Williams’ serves at up to 125 mph.
“I’m not playing against girls every day hitting the balls like this,” Bartoli said. “I mean, it’s not possible to beat her. She’s just too good.”
Similar has been said about top-ranked Roger Federer, who will bid for a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title in the men’s final Sunday against No. 2 Rafael Nadal. Federer beat Richard Gasquet in a straight-set semifinal Saturday, while Nadal advanced when Novak Djokovic stopped because of a toe injury.
Nadal will be playing on a seventh consecutive day because of all the rain during the tournament. Williams was forced to play her last four matches without a break, and she dropped a grand total of 22 games while beating No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, No. 6 Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals, and Bartoli.
It was a remarkable display of shotmaking, court coverage and consistency, match after match. Not only did Williams whip perfectly placed strokes from all sorts of angles, she repeatedly tracked down opponents’ apparent winners and got them back.
Against Bartoli, she compiled a whopping 27-9 edge in winners and won 13 of the 18 points that lasted at least 10 strokes.
“I know how to play this surface,” said Williams, the first woman to receive the same paycheck as the men’s champion at the All England Club. “If there’s a surface to pick, grass at Wimbledon’s not a bad choice.”
Right from the start, Williams took it to Bartoli, going ahead 3-0. But Bartoli, who upset No. 3 Jelena Jankovic in the fourth round and No. 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals, made things interesting by breaking back with the help of a double-fault and two groundstroke errors by Williams.
All the while, Bartoli stuck to her routines. Before each of her serves, she would walk to the baseline and hop high once, then bounce a couple of times, something she said relaxes her legs. Before most of Williams’ serves, Bartoli would turn her back to the court and take two big cuts, a forehand and a backhand, like a batter in the on-deck circle.
After 37 minutes, things were even at 4-4. But Williams held at love, then broke to end the first set with a swinging backhand volley.
That pretty much ended the competitive portion of the proceedings.
Perhaps because the sun finally emerged from the clouds and the temperature was suddenly in the 70s – ball kids held umbrellas at changeovers to provide shade – both finalists needed medical timeouts with Williams up 3-0 in the second set.
Bartoli had her left foot treated, while Williams got down on the court to have her left leg worked on. The American played the rest of the way with a thick bandage under her white spandex shorts, which she began wearing in the second round because the skirt she planned to use was too big.
“She’s a fighter,” said her boyfriend, golfer Hank Kuehne. “She’s one of those people that definitely has the ability to elevate her game. … If that’s on one leg, then she’s going to do that.”
As the break stretched to 10 minutes, Bartoli went to the baseline, then noticed that bored fans were doing the wave. Clearly enjoying her first Grand Slam final, she joined right along, raising her arms.
After the next point, a fan shouted, “Come on, Tim!” – the familiar rallying cry for Tim Henman – and Bartoli, who was about to serve, dropped her arms to her side and laughed. Then she turned and wagged a finger.
Williams was playing in her 12th Grand Slam final, sixth at the All England Club, and winning her sixth major title. Bartoli was in her sixth tournament final and never before had been beyond the fourth round at a major.
“You walk into that court,” she said, “and you know you’re a part of history.”
When they walked off that court, the one Williams knows so well, they passed the board that lists the past champions. Already stenciled in, below similar entries for 2000, 2001 and 2005, was Williams’ name, next to 2007. Clutching a bouquet of flowers, Williams stared at it, her mouth agape.
At about that time, her father was recalling that when Venus was 9, she would talk about how many Wimbledon titles she wanted to win one day.
“I think she can win three more,” Richard Williams said, “and I would be disappointed if she didn’t.”
At this point, who would doubt it?