- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

WIMBLEDON, England — Even at full strength, Venus Williams hasn’t been able to top little sister Serena recently. Hampered by a sore stomach and hip yesterday, she gave a valiant effort — but came up predictably short.

In a hard-fought but emotionally awkward renewal of the top sibling rivalry in sports, Serena defeated Venus 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the Wimbledon women’s singles final on Centre Court.

With the victory, Serena captured her second consecutive Wimbledon championship and sixth major title. Serena has met Venus in five of the last six Grand Slam finals and won them all.

Afterward, Serena was visibly subdued, neither leaping nor smiling before embracing her injured sister at the net.

“It’s a little more difficult seeing that it’s Venus that’s injured,” Serena said. “I just had to tell myself to look at the ball and nothing else. It just shows what a great champion Venus is. She’s really inspiring to me.”

Venus, a two-time Wimbledon champion, came into the match with a strained left hip and a left abdominal strain.

Her torso and left thigh tightly wrapped, she called for a medical timeout in the third set and spent much of afternoon wincing and grimacing — particularly after serves and overhead shots.

“I came out because I thought that the fans deserved a final,” Venus said. “That’s why I was out here.

“I wish that it was just one set instead of two out of three,” she added with a laugh.

That Venus was able to win the first set — or even play at all — was a testament to her fortitude.

She aggravated her abdominal strain, first suffered in Poland two months ago, in a semifinal victory over Belgium’s Kim Clijsters; after skipping practice Friday to receive treatment from trainer Kerrie Brooks, she repeatedly touched her torso while taking a pre-match photo at the net.

“It was just a domino effect,” Venus said. “Once I started not using certain parts of my body, then other parts started to go down. I had a lot of wraps going on.”

Nevertheless, Venus was anything but constricted in the first set, breaking Serena at love in the second game with a driving forehand that her sister couldn’t dig out.

Running the baseline with aplomb, Venus fired a 110 mph second serve to save a break point, screamed after an emphatic backhand winner and took advantage of Serena’s sloppy play.

On serve and facing two break points, Serena misplayed an easy put-away on a lob, then hit a drop shot wide to lose the set.

“[Venus] just ran down every ball,” Serena said. “That’s why I made errors because she was just getting so many balls back. I didn’t stay calm when I needed to.”

Venus’ condition worsened in the second, and her game followed suit. She hunched over after sending a forehand into the net, then yelped after a wincing double fault.

Venus’ serve dipped into the 80 mph range — pedestrian even by the underpowered standards of, say, Martina Hingis — allowing Serena to dictate points with punishing returns.

While serving to open the third, Venus grabbed her stomach in midswing. After dropping the game, she called for trainer Karen Davis, then retreated to the locker room for a six-minute medical timeout.

“I thought maybe she could give me a magic pill,” Venus said with a smile.

No such luck. Venus returned to loud applause and fired a return winner on the next point. But from there, she was mostly ineffective, barely jumping on her serves.

Down 4-2, Venus hit a hobbled-looking double fault on break point effectively to end the match. Wincing as she walked to her chair, she softly shook her head.

“I couldn’t run too fast,” Venus said. “I couldn’t stretch out too much. I was hitting serves in the net because it’s harder to reach up. [It] just affects the whole game.”

Serena didn’t have it any easier, at least not emotionally. Previous Williams sister tete-a-tetes have been aesthetically ragged affairs — partially because their powerful games make for fitful rallies, mostly because the sisters are so close.

Venus and Serena share a house in Florida. They share coaches in father Richard and mother Oracene Price. They make a giggling pair of doubles partners.

During Venus’ medical timeout, Serena sat on her sideline chair, her legs and shoulders swaddled in towels. Face blank, she told herself to focus on the moment — and not her sister’s distress.

“I just kept thinking, ‘This is Wimbledon,’” Serena said. “Who knows when I’ll have this opportunity again? That’s what kept me motivated.”

In winning the tournament, Serena reaffirmed her place at the top of the sport — squelching Clijsters’ challenge to her No.1 ranking and bouncing back from a difficult loss to Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals of the French Open.

“I should have won the French,” Serena said with a smile. “This is a great chance for me to show how I can play. I love playing here. And I love being a champion again.”

Venus, on the other hand, was once again left to play bridesmaid. And an aching bridesmaid, at that.

Following an gritty Wimbledon run that put to lie notions that she was more interested in fashion design than tennis, Venus didn’t hide her disappointment at re-injuring her stomach.

“I’m playing well,” she said. “It’s discouraging that I’m gonna have to take weeks off and kind of start from scratch again with fitness.”

Asked if her health would prevent her from playing in the U.S.-Italy Fed Cup quarterfinal at the H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center on July19, Venus was noncommittal.

“I love the Fed Cup,” she said. “I’d love to be there. But it’s definitely gonna be a stretch [to play].”

Still, the afternoon wasn’t all bad. After the match, Venus and Serena sat together, chatting in a pair of courtside chairs.

Spying All England Club media chairman Geoff Newton, Venus handed him a camera. Both sisters smiled for the lens.

“I’ve got the built-in doubles partner, the built-in hitting partner, the built-in motivator,” Venus said of Serena. “If I don’t bring my brush, she has hers. Vice versa. It’s a good thing.”

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