Serena Williams, right of U.S. greet her sister Venus Williams, left of U.S. in their women's singles final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon Saturday, July 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) - Serena Williams kept telling herself she was facing just another foe in the Wimbledon final Saturday, just another woman who hits the ball quite hard, just another player trying to deny her a Grand Slam title.
She wasn't facing just anyone, of course. She was playing her older sister Venus. And when the latest all-Williams final finished, when Serena wrapped up a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory for a third Wimbledon championship and 11th major title overall, she jogged to the net with her arm extended for a handshake.
Venus pulled her close for a warm embrace, instead.
"I didn't think about Venus at all today. I just saw her as an opponent," said Serena, who also beat her sister in the 2002 and 2003 finals at the All England Club. "At one point, after the first set, I looked on the side of the court at the stats, and it was like 'Williams,' 'Williams.' I couldn't figure out which was which."
That also might have been because she was facing the only other woman who can equal her power and court coverage on grass courts. Monday's rankings will say Serena is No. 2, and Venus No. 3 - behind No. 1 Dinara Safina, a 6-1, 6-0 loser to the elder Williams in the semifinals - but it is clear who the best woman in the world is at the moment.
Serena has won three of the past four Grand Slam titles and even poked a little fun at Safina, who is 0-3 in major finals.
"If you hold three Grand Slam titles, maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour, obviously," Serena said. Then, alluding sarcastically to two less-than-major events won by Safina, Serena doubled over in laughter after saying: "I see myself as No. 2. That's where I am. I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1. She won Rome and Madrid."
The sisters' father, Richard Williams, used to say his youngest daughter would be the better of the two, and the numbers back that up at this point: Serena leads in Grand Slam titles (11-7), in head-to-head matches (11-10), and in all-Williams major finals (6-2).
It was the 14th Grand Slam final for each Williams; no other active woman participated in more than four. Serena is 11-3 in such matches; Venus fell to 7-7, with all but one defeat coming against her sister.
Asked if it's easier or harder losing to a sibling, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus said: "There's no 'easy' to losing, especially when it's so close to the crown."
She was the two-time defending champion and had won 20 matches in a row at Wimbledon, the last 17 in straight sets. But Venus - at 29, she's 15 months older than Serena - appeared a step slow, perhaps bothered by the left knee that's been heavily bandaged since the second round, although she refused to place blame there.
"She played so well, really lifted her game," Venus said. "I had an error here and there. Today, I couldn't make errors."
Serena had more winners, 25-14, more aces, 12-2, and fewer unforced errors, 12-18.
About 3½ hours after their match ended, Serena and Venus returned to Centre Court and capped their domination of the tournament by winning a second consecutive Wimbledon doubles championship. Slapping palms between points, the sisters beat Australians Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs 7-6 (4), 6-4 to collect their ninth women's doubles Grand Slam title, fourth at Wimbledon.
"Nothing like winning a title with your sister," Serena said.
That's right: a quick turnaround from opponents to teammates. But they're used to this routine. They're still coached by their parents, who began teaching them the game 20-something years ago in Compton, Calif. They still share a house during Wimbledon. They still practice together.
During the singles final, the Center Court crowd of about 15,000 was not altogether sure for whom to cheer, going stretches without supporting either sister. Mom sat in the stands with arms crossed, while Dad had already left town, because he refuses to watch his daughters play each other.
As they walked to the sideline at the first changeover, crossing paths, the sisters avoided any eye contact whatsoever. Serena looked down at her racket, fiddling with the strings, the way she does against anyone else.
Surnames usually suffice when chair umpires announce the score, but that wouldn't work for Saturday's official, Alison Lang, who needed to use first names, as in: "Miss Venus Williams leads, 2 games to 1, first set."
The wind swirled, the sun was bright as it peeked out from behind scattered clouds, and Venus kept catching her tosses on serves. That was the part of her game that was most dominant this fortnight, and the thing that let her down the most against Serena.
Venus wound up with more double-faults (three) than aces, and she was broken twice. Serena, meanwhile, saved the only two break points she faced.
Both came while Serena trailed 4-3 in the opening set, serving at 15-40. On the first, Serena hit a 94 mph serve to the backhand side that Venus returned wide. On the second, Serena charged forward, and Venus had a wide-open court, but she pushed a forehand passing try long.
"Went for a little too much," Venus said.
From deuce, Serena hit two aces, at 105 mph and 116 mph, to pull out the game.
They went to a tiebreaker, and Serena closed it with a lob that curled like a rainbow over her sister and landed in, no easy task when you consider Venus is 6-foot-1.
Serena wheeled around, her back to the court, and quickly celebrated with a pump of a fist, although no yells of "Yes!" or "Come on!" - one, tiny, indication she couldn't completely banish from her mind the thought that Venus was on the other side of the net. Then Serena walked to the sideline, her left fist clenched and her face blank.
The second set wasn't nearly as competitive, with Serena breaking to a 4-2 lead when Venus double-faulted. That was part of an eight-point run for Serena, whose only real trouble came when she tried to seal the victory.
She wasted her first three match points, before Venus dropped a backhand into the net on the fourth. Serena closed her eyes, rolled her head back and dropped to her knees.
She lost Wimbledon finals to Maria Sharapova in 2004, and to her sister last year, and really wanted to end her six-year gap without a title from this tournament. Her trophy in tow - it's called, coincidentally, the Venus Rosewater Dish - Serena went to check out the board that lists Wimbledon's champions. She ran her fingers over all of those references to "S. Williams" and "V. Williams" in gold type on a green background - eight of the past 10 years, one or the other appears.
"Actually, I felt like my name should have been there at least once more," she said. "At least I got in another one."
She almost didn't. In the semifinals Friday, Serena was one point from losing to No. 4 Elena Dementieva, before coming back. She's only the second woman in the 41-year Open era to rally from match point down on the way to winning Wimbledon. The other? Venus in 2005.
Serena is making a habit of such escapes. She also saved match points en route to Australian Open championships in 2003 and 2005.
"The match is never over," Serena noted, "until you shake the opponent's hand."
Or, as was the case Saturday, until you hug her.
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