Venus Tops Vera For Her First WTA Championship Title
November 9, 2008 -- After she lost a tight first-set tiebreak to Vera Zvonareva, Venus Williams lost only two more games in the match to clinch the year ending Sony Ericsson Championships 6/7 (5) 6/0 6/2. It was Venus's first title for this event, which began in 1972.
With the Kingdom of Doha's Royal family on hand, as well as Billy Jean King plus other dignitaries, Venus and Vera put on a match that came as close as it could to the intensity of the three-and-a-half-hour battle between Maria Sharapova and Justin Henin last year. Henin, who won that match, then shocked the tennis world a couple short months later with news of her retirement while Maria Sharapova's injured shoulder has denied her any match play, and many ranking points, since before the hard court season. With both women absent from this year's championship, the year-ending crown was up for grabs.
"There's never been a year like this in women's tennis," Pam Shriver said. "It's been a revolving door for the WTA's number-one ranking."
Ironically, the two players in this final were the two lowest seeded players in the draw. Vera Zvonareva had won only one of the six matches she had played against Venus, too. However, she and Venus came in the final with a matching round-robin record: 4/0.
Both players looked a little rough around the edges as the first set progressed. The usually aggressive Williams stood on the baseline looking content to bang groundies with the Russian. Pam Shriver, in her normal negative commentary, had Williams on the injured reserve list until the sixth game of the set when she started to approach the net and shorten points to her advantage. Only then did Shriver begin to trust, a little, Venus's footwork, net rushing acumen and competitive spirit.
Vera served for the set at 5/3, as a call to prayers permeated the stadium. She zoomed to a forty-love lead and looked ready to close it out.
"Venus Williams is clearly on the defensive, playing well behind the baseline," Schriver said.
"If Vera Zvonareva doesn't win this first set," Cliff Drysdale began, "it could be a short evening."
Obviously Drysdale hadn't done his homework because Vera played from behind in all of her matches this week except one, in semifinal against Elena Dementieva; Vera went up 2/0 in the third set.
With three set points in Vera's favor, Venus started to unleash massive groundstrokes that set the Russian on her heels and created unforced errors off her racquet. Her serve wobbled and on the third deuce point of this crucial game, Venus broke.
A tiebreak wasn't what Zvonareva wanted, but she still had a big chance to win the set. Shriver continued to doubt the five-time Wimbledon champion, saying Venus was playing "very tentative points." Venus had let a 5/1 lead in the tiebreak vanish. Finally, the Russian won the set when an underspin backhand crept over the net. Vera put up her hand in apology, but had the set under her belt. She was in the lead for only the second time in the championships.
In the second set, unforced errors mounted as Zvonareva earned 38% of her first service points. The statistic on second serve points won was ugly, too, a measly 17%. She didn't covert any of the three break point chances, either. Her tennis faltered precipitously, and her mental toughness was put to the test.
Williams had won eight games in a row when the Russian pinched off the bloodletting with a picture-perfect drop shot and a break of serve, putting the match back on serve. The title was up for grabs because we had seen Vera come from behind before. But in the next game Vera cracked. Her emotional stability wore thin. She crumbled and collapsed onto the court's surface sobbing. Her body heaved. The audience stared. Venus bounced the ball a couple extra times, which was outside her well-honed ritual.
When Vera stood up to receive the world saw the tears in her eyes. Williams took a 4/1 lead, which was only one break up.
Maybe Vera Zvonareva can't take the lead in a match of this import. If she had lost the first set, the results here in Doha could have been altered. They were not, though. Williams continued her dominance, saw the finish line and broke to win the match. She threw her hands straight up in the air and for the first time her bright wide smile lit up her day.
"It was a hard fought match," she told Tracy Austin before the award's ceremony. "Every point was difficult, right down to the end. We both wanted to win, but I'm glad I won. This puts me in a great position to keep climbing the ranks."
A steady and confident world's number one female tennis player would be a welcome addition to the scene in 2009. If she can stay relatively injury free, Venus has a good chance of reaching that lofty spot. When the official rankings from the WTA reach the streets tomorrow morning, Venus and Serena will be in the top six. That's a good way to draw down the year.