My favourite game: Venus Williams v Lindsay Davenport, 2005 Wimbledon final

My favourite game: Venus Williams v Lindsay Davenport, 2005 Wimbledon final

Before there was ever Serena Williams, there was Venus. These days it can be easy to forget that, removed as we are 12 years from Venus’s seventh and last slam triumph, at Wimbledon in 2008. As Serena has risen from star to cultural icon, Venus continues to compete but she is nearly 40 now. She is almost at her end.

Fifteen years ago, many concluded she was already there. Venus arrived at Wimbledon in 2005 having suffered the embarrassment of being outplayed at Roland Garros by a 15-year-old from Bulgaria named Sesil Karatantcheva. The American had tumbled from the top 10. She was struggling. People argued her outside interests were eating her game from within, pointing out she had reached her first slam final aged only 17. Perhaps it made sense she was done at 25.

After starting timidly at Wimbledon, Williams’s level hit the stratosphere. She marched to the final by sidestepping the defending champion, Maria Sharapova, in a loud, combative, unforgettable classic. At the final hurdle stood the world No 1, Lindsay Davenport, perhaps the cleanest ball-striker the sport has ever seen. As the contest unfolded, Davenport took control, easily matching her opponent’s power and with added, vicious precision. Davenport served for the title at 6-4, 6-5.Of all the predictions Richard Williams made about his daughters, his most perceptive one came before Serena’s emergence, when Venus broke into her stride as a precocious teenager. As the tennis world was floored by the years of insufferable hype actually coming true, he calmly pointed out that Venus’s younger sister was “meaner” and so she would be greater.

Venus’s killer instinct was frequently lacking, but something different stirred in her that day at Wimbledon. A game from defeat, she responded with three winners in a row before breaking to love, then stealing the set with a resolute 7-4 tie-break.

When Davenport broke in the third set, Williams broke back. But the writing finally seemed to be on the wall as Williams double-faulted at 5-4, 30-30 to stand a point from defeat. Instead, she stepped up to the baseline and crunched a full-blooded backhand down-the-line winner, baring her teeth as she scuppered the championship point before marching back into the match and surviving after two hours and 46 minutes to win 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7.

When I think of this match, I think of the breathless quality and tension between two giants of the game and the continued hallucinatory sight of a black woman from Compton stepping on to the lawns of the most exclusive club in the sport and making it her own. But most of all, I think of Williams’s reaction: the way the camera slowly zoomed in on her disbelieving face, then her jumping into the air tens of times, falling to her knees and screaming to the skies. The way she just could not believe she was back and she had won again.

Venus was a barrier-breaker, and so she could never show too much of her emotions. She always had to be stoic and she used her swagger to shield herself from vulnerability. After falling from the top of the game and the world counting her out, this was the moment she finally showed how she really felt.

Hindsight has shone an even greater light on this contest. Most players spend the day before a slam final embedded in the routines that drove them to that position. Williams spent her Friday afternoon meeting with the suits of Wimbledon behind closed doors and pushing them to finally adopt equal prize money.

Like Billie Jean King before her, she recognised she could use her stature to push hard for change. A year later, she penned an article for the Times entitled “Wimbledon has sent me a message: I’m only a second-class champion”. Wimbledon finally announced equal prize money in 2007; Williams returned that year and won it all again.

Our journalism is open for all…

… and will remain so. Now more than ever, the Guardian is committed to delivering quality, responsible journalism each and every day. In these extraordinary times, when anxiety and uncertainty abound, the Guardian’s measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital. We will remain with you, delivering quality journalism so we can all make critical decisions about our lives, health and security – based on fact, not fiction.

You’ve read 14 articles in the last four months. We believe every one of us deserves equal access to accurate news and calm explanation. So, unlike many others, we made a different choice: to keep Guardian journalism open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. This would not be possible without the generosity of readers, who now support our work from 180 countries around the world.

We have upheld our editorial independence in the face of the disintegration of traditional media – with social platforms giving rise to misinformation, the seemingly unstoppable rise of big tech and independent voices being squashed by commercial ownership. The Guardian’s independence means we can set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Our journalism is free from commercial and political bias – never influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This makes us different. It means we can challenge the powerful without fear and give a voice to those less heard.

Your financial support has meant we can keep investigating, disentangling and interrogating. It has protected our independence, which has never been so critical. We are so grateful.

We need your support so we can keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. And that is here for the long term. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.


Popular Post