- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England Venus is once again the goddess of grass.
American tennis diva Venus Williams defended her Wimbledon singles title yesterday, overpowering 19-year-old Belgian Justine Henin 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 at the All England Club.
"I really wanted it," the 21-year-old Williams said after becoming the first woman to repeat at Wimbledon since Steffi Graf (1995-96). "This means just a lot more to me this year because I hadn't played as well in the other Grand Slams as I would have liked. It's really sweet."
Even before the first toss, this one looked like an epic mismatch. The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Williams towered almost comically over her sub-5-foot-6 counterpart as the two stood at the Centre Court net awaiting the coin toss. After a suspect start consisting of a pair of opening double faults, Williams quickly found her thundering serve and needed just 20 minutes to complete a first-set rout.
Playing in her first Grand Slam final, Henin looked every bit the overwhelmed youngster during the set, struggling mightily with her signature one-handed backhand and managing a paltry 10 returns against Williams' heavy serve during the first set.
"Her serve was unbelievable all the match," Henin said. "It's unbelievable to return this kind of serve on grass court. I think it's amazing. It was so fast and a lot of precision."
Just as she did in her semifinal victory against Grand Slam hopeful Jennifer Capriati, Henin rebounded from the first-set debacle with a gutsy second that clearly earned her the support of the nearly 13,000 fans at Centre Court. And for a brief moment, Henin injected suspense back into the atmosphere, launching herself into airborne groundstrokes, earning her first few trips to the net and coping with Williams' serve. Henin recorded a break on an errant backhand from Williams at 3-4 and served out the set to even the match and send a ripple of delight through the crowd.
But Williams would have nothing to do with the momentum of the scrambling Belgian. She mentally regrouped, opened the third set by serving a love game and pounded her way to victory in another 20-minute burst of perfection.
"I never got concerned," Williams said of the dropped set. "I was really relaxed [to start the third set] and really just ready to take it. Maybe it was just experience in the third. Maybe she got a little nervous. I don't know. I'm just glad it went my way."
Things didn't just happen to go Williams' way in the final set she dictated play on every point, punishing serves, ripping returns and bringing her incomparable wingspan to the net often enough to make legend-cum-broadcaster Martina Navratilova positively giddy at her maturing approach. Consider these staggering statistics from the third set: Williams got 79 percent of her first serves in, won every point when she did, committed just one unforced error and lost only 10 total points.
Williams closed out the match in a misting rain with a third consecutive break of Henin's serve and reacted like a veteran champion. Unlike last year, when she celebrated her first major victory by dancing amid the royals with her controversial father and coach, Richard, Williams gracefully accepted the Venus Rosewater Dish from the Duchess of Kent, graciously congratulated Henin and marched off Centre Court like a woman confident that a steady parade of major titles are forthcoming.
"I think it's going to be a great place for me for years to come," said Williams, who has won three of the last five majors to cement her station as the primary force in the women's game.
And despite yesterday's dazzling display, Williams is the first to admit she has only begun toying with her vast potential.
"Last year I had about eight wonderful days of practice before Wimbledon that lasted me the whole year," Williams said. "This year I'm going to practice more. I think I can capitalize better, just really work on more things in my game moving forward, taking the ball early just some more strategy that I can add to the next year coming.
"I didn't really do that last year. A lot of things happened. I went to school. There wasn't a lot of time. I had a lot of things to do with sponsors. But I'm going to make time to practice."
If Williams, now ranked a somewhat misleading second to Martina Hingis in the women's game, does add a serious work ethic to her outrageous mound of athletic ability, it's difficult to envision anyone challenging her in the near future.
"In my mind, I'm always the best," said Williams, who promises she will compete in more regular WTA events. "I can't see anybody better than me. If when I walk out on the court I think the next person is better, I've already lost. So in my mind, sure, I'm the best. But on paper right now, I'm No. 2.
"[Being No. 1] is on the top of the list now. Maybe in the past, it wasn't. Grand Slams definitely are No. 1. Then No. 2, for sure, is No. 1. Oh, boy, I sound like a Dr. Seuss book."
Actually, Williams proved once again yesterday that there is absolutely nothing cartoonish about her potential.

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