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Venus ends remarkable run with fourth title

7/7/2007 - Tennis

WIMBLEDON, England -- Improbable as this Wimbledon title
might have seemed, Venus Williams knew it could happen.

Far away as that trophy might have appeared only last week,
Williams knew she had the game and the grit to grab it.

Oh, how her serves and strokes sizzle on the grass of Centre
Court.

With a dominant run through the latter rounds, Williams became
the lowest-ranked woman to win Wimbledon, beating Marion Bartoli of
France 6-4, 6-1 Saturday for her fourth championship at the All
England Club.

"I was really motivated because no one picked me to win. They
didn't even say, 'She can't win.' They weren't even talking about
me," said Williams, who reached No. 1 in 2002 but entered
Wimbledon ranked No. 31. "I never would doubt myself that way."

Even after missing time with a left wrist injury? Even after
being two points from defeat against a teenager ranked 59th in the
first round? Even after trailing 5-3 in the final set against
someone ranked 71st in the third?

There really wasn't a smidgen of surprise that she once more got
to clutch the Venus Rosewater Dish, as the Wimbledon champion's
plate happens to be known?

"For me? No," she said. "I just have to go out there and
execute. I have the experience and everything to do it."

It was similar to the performance turned in by Williams' younger
sister Serena in January, when she won the Australian Open while
ranked 81st. Clearly, rankings mean nothing when it comes to the
Williams siblings. Nor does recent form.

If they are in a tournament, they can win it.

"As long as we're fit," the 27-year-old Williams said, "we
just have so much more to give on the court."

Bartoli, who hits two-fisted forehands and backhands, learned
that lesson quickly.

She hadn't faced Williams anywhere, let alone on grass -- where
balls skid more than they bounce -- and Bartoli quickly discovered
it was like nothing she'd ever experienced on a tennis court.

By the end, she was flexing her wrists and shaking her hands,
trying to alleviate the sting from Williams' serves at up to 125
mph.

"I'm not playing against girls every day hitting the balls like
this," Bartoli said. "I mean, it's not possible to beat her.
She's just too good."

Williams was forced to play her last four matches without a break, and she dropped a grand total of 22 games while beating No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, No. 6 Ana Ivanovic
in the semifinals, and Bartoli.

It was a remarkable display of shotmaking, court coverage and
consistency, match after match. Not only did Williams whip
perfectly placed strokes from all sorts of angles, she repeatedly
tracked down opponents' apparent winners and got them back.

Against Bartoli, she compiled a whopping 27-9 edge in winners
and won 13 of the 18 points that lasted at least 10 strokes.

"I know how to play this surface," said Williams, the first
woman to receive the same paycheck as the men's champion at the All
England Club. "If there's a surface to pick, grass at Wimbledon's
not a bad choice."

Right from the start, Williams took it to Bartoli, going ahead
3-0. But Bartoli, who upset No. 3 Jelena Jankovic in the fourth
round and No. 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals, made things
interesting by breaking back with the help of a double-fault and
two groundstroke errors by Williams.

All the while, Bartoli stuck to her routines. Before each of her
serves, she would walk to the baseline and hop high once, then
bounce a couple of times, something she said relaxes her legs.
Before most of Williams' serves, Bartoli would turn her back to the
court and take two big cuts, a forehand and a backhand, like a
batter in the on-deck circle.

After 37 minutes, things were even at 4-4. But Williams held at
love, then broke to end the first set with a swinging backhand
volley.

That pretty much ended the competitive portion of the
proceedings.

Perhaps because the sun finally emerged from the clouds and the
temperature was suddenly in the 70s -- ball kids held umbrellas at
changeovers to provide shade -- both finalists needed medical
timeouts with Williams up 3-0 in the second set.

Bartoli had her left foot treated, while Williams got down on
the court to have her left leg worked on. The American played the
rest of the way with a thick bandage under her white spandex
shorts, which she began wearing in the second round because the
skirt she planned to use was too big.

"She's a fighter," said her boyfriend, golfer Hank Kuehne.
"She's one of those people that definitely has the ability to
elevate her game. ... If that's on one leg, then she's going to do
that."

As the break stretched to 10 minutes, Bartoli went to the
baseline, then noticed that bored fans were doing the wave. Clearly
enjoying her first Grand Slam final, she joined right along,
raising her arms.

After the next point, a fan shouted, "Come on, Tim!" -- the
familiar rallying cry for Tim Henman -- and Bartoli, who was about
to serve, dropped her arms to her side and laughed. Then she turned
and wagged a finger.

Williams was playing in her 12th Grand Slam final, sixth at the
All England Club, and winning her sixth major title. Bartoli was in
her sixth tournament final and never before had been beyond the
fourth round at a major.

"You walk into that court," she said, "and you know you're a
part of history."

When they walked off that court, the one Williams knows so well,
they passed the board that lists the past champions. Already
stenciled in, below similar entries for 2000, 2001 and 2005, was
Williams' name, next to 2007. Clutching a bouquet of flowers,
Williams stared at it, her mouth agape.

At about that time, her father was recalling that when Venus was
9, she would talk about how many Wimbledon titles she wanted to win
one day.

"I think she can win three more," Richard Williams said, "and
I would be disappointed if she didn't."

At this point, who would doubt it?