As Wimbledon comes to a close, we're counting down the 10 most memorable matches at the All England Club over the last 50 years.
When a 25-year-old Venus Williams and a 29-year-old Lindsay Davenport met in this all-Californian 2005 Wimbledon final, many believed it could be the last chance that either woman would have to win a Grand Slam title. Despite being ranked No. 1 for the previous 10 months, Davenport hadn’t won a major for five years. At the same time, the oft-injured and 14th-seeded Williams was in the midst of a four-year Slam drought of her own. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the two countrywomen would fight tooth and nail for this elusive title, and that the result would be the longest—and one of the best—women’s finals in Wimbledon history.
For the first set and a half, it didn’t appear to be a match that would set any records or leave us with many memories. With her flat, powerful ground strokes, the top-seeded Davenport forced Williams to scramble, often futilely, across the baseline. Davenport had beaten Williams in their last four meetings, and as the second set progressed, she looked to be moving methodically toward a fifth straight win, and a career-capping second Wimbledon. At 6-5, she served for the title.
It was there that Venus’s long-delayed rally began. She opened the game with an unexpected net attack, which produced a forehand volley winner. Finally wresting control of the rallies from Davenport, she broke at love, and jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker before winning it 7-4.
“Every time the chips were down for Venus, she played unbelievably,” Davenport said.
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That set the stage for a classic, overtime third set. Earlier that year in the Australian Open final, Davenport had led Venus’s sister Serena by a set, before running out of energy. This time physical trouble struck when she was serving for a 5-2 lead in the third. In that game, Davenport felt her back stiffen; walking gingerly, she was broken for 3-4, and was taken to the locker room for treatment. When she came back, she managed to reach championship point with Williams serving at 4-5.
All the chips were on the table for Venus now. No woman since Helen Wills Moody in 1935 had saved a match point and gone on to win a Wimbledon final, but Venus did it by firing off a down-the-line backhand winner. From there, with the title never more than two games away, and with the crowd holding it collective breath, the two women fought for every ball, and for every inch of grass on Centre Court. Williams served to stay in the match three times, before finally breaking through at 7-7, and closing out her third Wimbledon title in the set’s 16th game.
“I knew my destiny was to be in the winner’s circle,” Williams said. It had been two years since she had made it past the quarterfinals at a major, but her customary blithe confidence was still intact. “There were times along the way when I didn’t make it there. But I felt my destiny was to win big titles, win lots of titles.”
Venus celebrated her victory that day by leaping into the air, and then leaping some more. Has she ever come down? Thirteen years and two more Wimbledon titles later, we can say that she knew her destiny better than anyone, and that she has fulfilled it. If there’s one win among the hundreds she has recorded in her two-decade career that we’ll remember, and that sums up Venus’s never-say-die, never-stop-believing philosophy, it’s this one.
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.