A dramatic, upset-filled, rejuvenating fortnight at Wimbledon concluded with the highest of play and drama this weekend. On Saturday, the Williams sisters faced off in the final, seeing Venus take out younger sister Serena…and then three hours later, they teamed up to win the women’s doubles championship. A Brit named Laura Robson won the girls’ championship, giving the home crowd something nationalistic to cheer for at last. And then Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in what may be the greatest match I’ve ever witnessed (I’d say just edging out V. Williams vs. Lindsay Davenport in Wimbledon 2005).
Back when the Williams sisters dominated the women’s tour, they met in six of eight Grand Slam finals, Serena winning the last five. Their matches always came with some hand-wringing: ludicrous charges of match-fixing (again brought up this year when Elena Dementieva lost to Venus in the semis and said that the finals would be a “family decision”), sloppy and lackluster play, and the intangibles of sibling rivalry being played out at an historic level that left the crowd uncomfortable. Well, just about the only negative thing you can say about the women’s final between Venus and Serena Williams was that it didn’t go three sets. The 7-5, 6-4 scoreline is a mite deceiving: Serena came out guns a-blazin’, taking it to big sis and rolling the first ten of eleven points. And then she hit a screamer right to her sister at the net, who countered with a reflex volley winner. After that, it seemed that Venus woke up, and there was nothing Serena could do. And she tried everything. Against any player in the world, Serena would have ran away with this in an hour. But not on Wimbledon against her older sister, the greatest grass-court player of her generation. Consider this: since 2000, a Williams sister has contested all but one final. Serena’s two wins came over Venus. Venus has won five titles, putting her just behind Martina Navratilova (nine) and Steffi Graf (seven) in the Open era.
Not only was it the highest quality match the sisters had played against each other, but I’d have to agree with Peter Bodo when he calls it “the highest level of women’s tennis I’ve ever witnessed.” The quality of shotmaking, the power, precision, the incredible defense were second to none. Serena, a notorious sore-loser, couldn’t even muster enthusiasm for her sister’s win. Considering the way she played, I can see why. The shots she was hitting would have been winners against anyone else, but big sis was always there with an even better reply. Thankfully, the Williams sisters went out and won the doubles, meaning a family sweep, and little sis got to hold up a championship trophy of her own.
Turns out the Williams family drama on Saturday would serve as only a mere appetizer for the behemoth Greek tragedy that was Federer-Nadal III. This was the match-up everyone was looking forward to; the King of Grass vs. the King of Clay. Nadal had come in playing his finest tennis, destroying Federer in the French Open final and taking out Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic in a grass-court warm-up in Queens prior to Wimbledon. Federer, meanwhile, had been unbeaten on grass since 2002 but had yet to show his very best tennis this year, which would be needed to take out Nadal, even on grass.
Nadal had battled–and very nearly won–during their five set encounter in the Wimbledon finals last year, and due to his improved play and Federer’s decline, he was the overwhelming pick by pundits going into the match. He confirmed most predictions by jumping to a 6-4, 6-4, 4-5 lead before the rains came. It looked just about all over for Federer, who then came back to take the third set in a tiebreak. Nadal had many a chance to break through on Federer’s serve in the fourth, but couldn’t manage to pull it off. On to another tiebreak, during which Nadal choked up 5-2, Federer saving championship points with tremendous defense and typical brilliant shotmaking to take the fourth set. What was improbable–but hoped for–a few hours previously had come true: a fifth set, one last stand to decide the champ. Fitting that, with all that was on the line–Federer was gunning to break Bjorn Borg’s record of five straight Wimbledon wins; Nadal was trying to be the first man since Borg to win the “Channel Slam” (French and Wimbledon back-to-back)–it would go to overtime, would end in the dusk, the majestic Centre Court looking like the best set dressing for this improbable dream of a match as flashbulbs provided the only available light as the match ended on Federer’s missed forehand.
Between this and the Mets, a pretty good sports weekend for me.
(A bit of a side note: After last night’s game I kept it tuned to WFAN and listened to Lori Rubinson field calls, talk to Joe Smith, and discuss the Mets. At some point the conversation turned to Nadal’s victory over Federer. Rubinson said something to the effect of “I know Americans only care about American men dominating the sport, but if this match doesn’t help renew interest in tennis, then there’s something wrong with the sport.” I’d agree except say instead, “There’s something wrong with the mentality of the average American sports fan.” Because this comment, while true, not only speaks towards our country’s depressing jingoism/xenophobia–as Rubinson stated, Nadal is a perfect candidate to get Americans interested in the sport, considering his never-say-die attitude and bucketloads of charisma but oh! he’s Spanish!–but total phallocentrism as well. Because, ahem, we’ve had some American women dominate over the past decade while American men have floundered, but oh, they’re women, and black to boot. I see, America.)