Victorious Venus


Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 1:33 a.m.
WIMBLEDON, England - Venus Williams traded loud shrieks and powerful shots with Maria Sharapova as flash bulbs popped in the fading light, and when it was over, Williams celebrated her Wimbledon semifinal victory as if the title were hers again.
Straight-faced and serious throughout the match, Williams let it all out. She crossed over to the other side of the net, hopped in place, then bent over and laughed.
Thursday's match was a stirring 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory over the defending champion, yet it was so much more than that. It was the strongest statement to date that Williams is back on top of her game, back to being a player who was ranked No. 1 and won four Grand Slam titles in 2000-01.
Hampered by injuries, burdened by erratic play, surpassed by a younger sibling and others, Williams hadn't advanced beyond the quarterfinals at a major in two years.
''After the match, I was like: 'OK, you can stop focusing now. Have a little bit of fun,' '' Williams said. ''Today, for me, was just one point at a time, just sticking to my game and not getting off and losing focus of what I needed to do. So the end of the match, that was the arrival of getting pumped up.''
There's still another match to go, of course, but Williams left the All England Club not knowing who she'll face in Saturday's final. About 10 minutes after Williams and Sharapova walked off the court, the rain that delayed the start of play for more than four hours returned. The other semifinal, moved to Court 1, was suspended with top-ranked Lindsay Davenport leading No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 5-3, and Mauresmo serving at 15-0.
They'll resume today, when No. 1 Roger Federer faces No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt, and No. 2 Andy Roddick plays No. 12 Thomas Johansson for berths in the men's final.
At least Williams knows this: She won't have to face the woman she played in her past six Grand Slam finals, sister Serena.
Little sis e-mailed Venus before Thursday's match to offer encouragement. After Venus beat Sharapova for the first time in three tries, Serena called and playfully asked, ''Can I have your autograph?''
It was the second instance this tournament of Venus taking care of some family business. Serena lost in the third round last week to Jill Craybas, who was beaten by Venus less than 48 hours later. And it was Serena who was the two-time defending champion upset by the 13th-seeded Sharapova in last year's Wimbledon final.
''The level of tennis was a lot higher today,'' said Sharapova, who tried everything, including four shots left-handed.
One sign of how far Venus had tumbled is that she was seeded only 14th - which would make her the tournament's lowest-seeded champion if she wins.
''It's satisfying, but I've always felt that I can play at this level,'' she said. ''I just gave myself the opportunity at this tournament to do it.''
TODAY
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    Dad: Fans, media grew tired of Williams sisters' success The Associated Press WIMBLEDON, England - Richard Williams says his daughters, Venus and Serena, have paid a price for their success.
    They've struggled, he says, because of criticism from fans and the media, who grew tired of watching them play in Grand Slam finals - and think they've made tennis ''boring.''
    ''When it was Steffi Graf or Chris Evert that won, or Monica Seles - but when those two black girls came and beat up everyone, tennis was 'not exciting,' '' he told The Associated Press on Thursday after watching Venus beat Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon semifinals.
    ''I bet you they wouldn't say that if Sharapova won all the time, or Lindsay (Davenport) won all the time. So who would want to play under those conditions?''
    The sisters played each other in six of eight Grand Slam finals from the U.S. Open in 2001 to Wimbledon in 2003.
    Because of that, their father said, ''Every reporter, every TV station and ... near every fan'' thought ''tennis is not exciting anymore. It's boring.''
    Williams, who taught his daughters how to play tennis, has never been shy about expressing his opinions. Long before Venus and Serena were stars, he predicted they would dominate the game.
    Venus' latest victory put her in a major final for the first time in two years.
    ''I think her confidence is just rolling now and her confidence had been down,'' her dad said. ''When your techniques are better, you can execute the way you should, and that's what brings about confidence in anything that you're doing.''
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