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Tuesday, June 20, 2006
A memorable match that took its toll

By Pam Shriver
Special to

Last year's Wimbledon final between Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams was the women's match of 2005. A Grand Slam final between two former Wimbledon champions, both of whom had been No. 1 in the world. Adding to the build up was the fact that Davenport had not won a Grand Slam title since 2000 and Williams' last Grand Slam win came at the 2002 U.S. Open. You had a sense this might be the last chance for both players -- especially Davenport -- to win one more Grand Slam title before their careers ended.

People had written off Venus because of injuries, her occasional indifference and her uninspiring play. On the other hand, the last two years for Davenport had been littered with opportunities to win a fourth major, but she fell short each time. In 2004, she lost in the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and lost to Serena Williams in the 2005 Australian Open final. And in each loss, Davenport had won the first set convincingly. She just didn't grab the opportunities by the throat and that's all it takes to fall short in the biggest moments.

The match started off routinely, and was a little ho-hum for the first set and a half. Davenport was playing solid; winning the first set and was serving for the match in the second when all of a sudden Venus stepped up her game. That's when it got memorable. There was a lot of drama at the end of the second set when Lindsay could have closed out the championship. The third set was one to remember, highlighted by Venus saving a match point and eventually winning 4-6, 7-6, 9-7.

When it was over, Davenport and Williams had played the longest women's Wimbledon final in history (2 hours, 45 minutes). Matches like that are so physically draining and emotionally tough that they can be very hard to recover from. You can play for 2 hours, 45 minutes in the third round of a Grand Slam, but you spend a totally different kind of energy in a final.

Davenport went on to win four more titles in 2005, giving her 51 titles for her career. But what a lot of us find amazing is of those 51 titles, she has only three Grand Slams. By comparison, Jennifer Capriati has won 14 WTA Tour titles, but three of them came in majors. Venus has 33 career titles, including five Grand Slams. Davenport has more year-end No. 1 finishes (4) than Grand Slam titles (3), which is unusual.

2006 has been an injury-riddled season for Davenport. She hasn't played since March and announced this week she will miss Wimbledon because of a back injury. If we don't see Davenport during the hard-court season, to me, it's probably over. All the tough Grand Slam losses have certainly taken their toll on Davenport. She has reached at least the quarterfinals in each of the last seven Grand Slam events she's played. In six of those seven events, Davenport lost in three sets, and in five of those six losses she won the first set.

While Davenport hasn't won a Grand Slam since 2000, Venus had not won a major since the 2001 U.S. Open prior to winning Wimbledon last year. And like Davenport, Venus has also been hurt a lot since their Wimbledon final. Last year I saw her at Stanford, Calif., a month after Wimbledon and Venus said she was still exhausted from Wimbledon. It was noticeable and that's when you are susceptible to injuries.

A variety of injuries and ailments kept Venus off the court for all but one tournament after the 2005 U.S. Open. After losing in the first round this year at the Australian Open, Williams took three months off because of an elbow injury. She returned in May and played well in two clay-court tournaments leading up to the French Open. At Roland Garros she proved that she can still win and has a bounce in her step - even on clay which is her worst surface.

Venus looks healthy for the first time since last year's Wimbledon final, and her attitude and level of happiness has been great. She genuinely seems happy to be playing. As for Davenport, injuries are harder to recover from at her age (she turned 30 on June 8) and I think this summer will be make or break as to whether she continues her career.

And after a strong showing at the French Open, many people are picking -- including me -- as the favorite to win at Wimbledon.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002.