- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams was fed up with the same old question: What’s happened to the Williams sisters?

So she showed ‘em.

Down a set and facing a break, her back hurting and her serve misfiring, Williams dug deep to beat top-ranked Lindsay Davenport 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in Australian Open final Friday night, ending an 18-month Grand Slam title drought.

“I’ve always considered myself the best and the top,” she said. “I never considered that I was out of it. Ever.”

She won the last nine games and lost only eight points in the deciding set en route to her seventh major championship. Her previous Grand Slam title was at Wimbledon in 2003, the last in a sequence of five titles in six majors.

“I never, ever, think that I have to give up, in the most dire situations,” Williams said.

Yet she is coming off a year of physical and emotional upheaval. Williams and sister Venus have contended with injuries and the shooting death of sister Yetunde Price in September 2003. Many began to wonder if the sisters had lost their aura.

“It’s that much sweeter because people are always wondering about what’s happening to us,” Serena said. “It’s nothing. The matches we lose, it’s just maybe because of a few points here, a few points there of not playing well, but we’re really in it.”

While the Williams sisters were not winning Grand Slam titles, the championships went to Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne and Russians Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Davenport rose to No.1 in the rankings, despite thoughts of retirement, without adding to her three major titles. Amelie Mauresmo, without a Grand Slam title, held the No.2 ranking.

Williams overwhelmed Mauresmo in the quarterfinals. She avenged her Wimbledon final loss to Sharapova, saving three match points before beating the 17-year-old Russian in the semifinals. Williams then found her range against Davenport.

Venus, winner of four majors, is still on the comeback trail. She lost to Alicia Molik in the fourth round in Australia.

For Serena, beating three of the top four players will send her to the No.2 spot when the WTA releases its rankings tomorrow. She will be the first woman to move to No.2 from outside the top five in a single tournament.

“I haven’t played enough tournaments yet, but I really feel that I’m doing the best that I can and I think it will all pay off,” she said. “Eventually, I’ll be where I want to be.”

The next objective is a French Open crown, which would give her record a little symmetry.

“I feel that I need to win the French because I’ve won two of each already except for the French,” she said.

Against Davenport, Williams lost the first four games. She was grimacing and grunting in pain with almost every shot after wrenching her back chasing a backhand in the opening game. After holding serve for the first time, she called for the trainer and took an eight-minute break for treatment on and off the court.

Davenport finished off the set and had six break points in the fifth game of the second, until Williams felt she could push herself to the limit.

“Because I had some pain before I thought, ‘OK, this isn’t the end of the world. This isn’t even the end of the match,’” she said. “I decided I needed to pull my game together a little bit. I was OK mentally — my mind, everything was working. So I figured that was enough.”

The men’s final — the first in the Australian Open at night — featured Lleyton Hewitt against Marat Safin. Safin is playing his third final in four years at Melbourne Park but has yet to win.

Safin, seeded fourth, ended Roger Federer’s 26-match winning streak in the semifinals. Hewitt, seeded third, beat Andy Roddick in the semis. The former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion is hoping to be the first Australian man to win the national championship since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Williams, seeded seventh, appeared doomed in the fifth game of the second set, and ready to smash her racket. But she saved six break points to turn the match.

“I was serving so many balls, my arm was hurting,” Williams recalled. “I kept thinking ‘I’m not losing this game — I don’t care if my arm falls off.’”

Davenport was in a different frame of mind. Three games later, she held game point at 40-0 before dropping serve to Williams.

“I felt like I was playing well and in control pretty much of the match,” Davenport said. “Then I just had that horrible lapse … and opened up the door for her. She just kept going through it.”

Zimbabwe’s Kevin Ullyett won the doubles title and advanced to the mixed doubles final in consecutive matches.

He combined with countryman Wayne Black to beat U.S. twins Bob and Mike Bryan 6-4, 6-4. He then joined Liezel Huber in a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (8) semifinal win over Max Mirnyi and 48-year-old Martina Navratilova, advancing to today’s mixed doubles final against Australians Samantha Stosur and Scott Draper.

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