Venus sparkles again in Wimbledon final

Nirmal Shekar

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal set up another title clash

London: She might be an occasional champion, but Venus Williams does indeed choose the right occasion to crown herself. Coming into town world ranked No.31 halfway through an injury-ravaged season, the 27-year old American capped a fairytale fortnight with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Marion Bartoli of France in the women’s singles final of the 121st Wimbledon championships on Saturday.

On a gorgeous summer afternoon, in her sixth final on the centre court, Venus became the lowest ranked woman since Open era records began to claim the Venus Rosewater Dish.

It was Venus’ fourth Wimbledon title — the other three came in 2000, 2001 and 2005 — and sixth in Grand Slams and it left you wondering how many more she might have won if she had chosen to commit herself 100 per cent to being a professional tennis player instead of devoting considerable time to designing interiors.

Earlier in the afternoon, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal habitually set up a title clash for the second year in a row. It will also be their second successive Grand Slam final following last month’s French Open.

While Federer quelled the Frenchman Richard Gasquet’s early challenge to go through with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory, Nadal took an easier route to the championship match as his opponent, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, retired midway in the second set because of a toe injury and a sore back. At that time, the three-time French Open champion was leading 3-6, 6-1, 4-1.

Promises not kept

The women’s final promised a lot when Bartoli, who had stunned the top seed and world No. 1, Justine Henin, late on Friday evening, quickly turned things around after falling behind 0-3 in the opening set against Venus.

Hitting fearlessly for a woman making her first appearance in a major final, Bartoli knotted up the set at 3-3 and held her own for a while before a double fault in the 10th game provided the former world No. 1 a precious opening. Venus crashed through with a superb forehand approach followed by a volley winner. As a contest, the match ended there.

Three quarters of an hour later, Venus wrapped things up on her second championship point, with a huge serve into her opponent’s body.

“It’s been a long road back. My family knows what I went through,” said Venus. “It was really tough but I am glad I brought it together here.”

She said Wimbledon has always been special to her because “while growing up I always admired Pete Sampras.”

Two is company

Early in the second set of the match between Federer and Gasquet, with assorted royalty and other celebrities choosing lunch over tennis, the Royal Box was almost empty. Well, almost but not quite. There was one man sitting alone there, striking a pensive Rodinesque pose.

Was the great man thinking about 1980, when he himself made his fifth successive final here? We will never know what was going through Bjorn Borg’s mind, but he might have company soon, weather — and Rafael Nadal — permitting.

Federer’s seemingly pre-destined entry into the final has given him the opportunity to join one of the sport’s immortals in the Wimbledon pantheon by becoming the second man in the Open Era to win five Wimbledon titles in a row.

“Now it has become a sort of routine. Still it is very exciting,” said Federer after reaching his ninth successive Grand Slam final, a feat no man has ever accomplished before him.

He summed up the match quite simply, and truthfully. “I was in trouble late in the first set. I came out of that situation and started to play really well for about 10 minutes. That was it,” he said.

Indeed that was it — as simple as that. And you’d think all Federer had to do when he was down 40-15 on serve in the 11th game of the opening set was to reach for that little secret button somewhere in his hugely over-achieving right arm.

From that moment, the great man was unstoppable, turning on a free-flowing patch of brilliance that was electrifying to watch — from the stands, to be sure, for how it felt from the other half of the court only poor Gasquet will know.

In tennis matches, greatness can quite often be isolated, whether it is a brief affair or a long-drawn-out seat-edge thriller. On this day, greatness was neatly packaged in those 10 minutes that Federer spoke about, stretching from the fifth point of the 11th game to the last of the second game of the following set.

Four games in all, four successive games won by the master, and they said everything you will ever want to know about Federer’s greatness. Tactical ingenuity, technical perfection, a rare quality of powered control, the extraordinary ability to uncork top drawer stuff in moments of crisis and, most of all, a great champion’s skill in closing out matches … in those magical 10 minutes of athletic perfection, you saw them all.

Glimpse of greatness

Up in the stands, Borg would have recognised those qualities. In the fifth set of the 1980 final against John McEnroe, after letting go of seven championship points in the fourth, the way the laconic Swede quickly put behind the disappointment to raise his game offered us a glimpse into the very heart of greatness.

Nineteen years on, another legend provided just such an opportunity for the fans. Down 40-15 on serve midway in the first set of the 1999 final against Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras authored a man-to-superman transformation rarely seen in sport.

“He walked on water,” Agassi said. Actually, what Sampras and Borg and Federer have done in those transcendental moments of sporting excellence is to show us how the stars can be accessed.

I am reminded of a Latin phrase: sic itur ad astra — thus do we reach the stars. And, thus do we ordinary mortals know how such heights are conquered.

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