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Tennis - Wimbledon's Strawberries and Cream

By Tom Kosinski
Monday, July 8th, 2002

Lleyton Hewitt became the first Australian since Pat Cash to capture the Championships, Wimbledon in a stunning 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 straight set victory over Argentinian David Nalbandian. With girlfriend and WTA top ten player Kim Clijsters watching from the player's box, Hewitt made short work of the Argentinian.

The victory was hard fought and won by Hewitt, as Nalbandian played many games closely, including a six-deuce second game of the match. Hewitt hit passing shots with ease and hit many winners past an awestruck Nalbandian. The last time a final was so one-sided was in 1984, when the brash John McEnroe dispatched Jimmy Connors in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.

Nalbandian, a former Wimbledon Junior semi-finalist and Wimbledon Junior Doubles champion, played in his first-ever major championship final in his first ever appearance in the championship's main draw. Nalbandian topped John McEnroe as the only debut finalist in the Open era. McEnroe had held the previous record, reaching the semifinals in the 1977 championships at the age of 17.

Nalbandian looked tense and out of place during the entire match, clearly overwhelmed by his very first match ever on the All England Tennis and Croquet Club's hallowed Centre Court. Nalbandian was also clearly fatigued, having finished a tense five set semifinal victory over Belgian Xavier Malisse just a day earlier, 7-6, 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 6-2.

The match was interrupted twice by rain, but no stoppage lasted longer then 15 minutes and neither player took the three minute warm-up available after stoppage. The match was particularly interesting as both players played solely from the backcourt, venturing to the net only when drawn in by a short ball or easy put away.

This is in stark contrast to years gone by, where SW19 was ruled by the serve-and-volley style player with the good serve and foot speed. The lawns at Wimbledon were slowed a bit this year to accommodate more baseline play and to appease the clay court players who have complained bitterly over the years and who often pass the grass court season altogether. Hewitt's victory from the backcourt marks the first time since Bjorn Borg in 1980 that a baseline player has held the winner's cup high in victory.

On the women's side, Serena Williams dispatched her older sister Venus in a convincing, 7-6, 6-3 victory in front of a packed Centre Court crowd and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The first set was hard-fought and closely contested with both sisters hitting out on every ball and serving consistently over 110 miles per hour. Unforced errors ran high for the match, as both Serena and Venus attempted to raise the level of their games and play the finest shots available.

Serena closed out the first set tie-breaker in convincing fashion, never really giving Venus a chance to get comfortable. Venus, the reigning women's champ and two-time victor, never really got into her groove, missing several key first serves and over hitting many shots at key moments.

Serena was the aggressor, and pushed Venus around the court with relative ease in the second set. Serena played at the level she has since the Australian Open, taking the match and the world number one spot without much argument. Serena became the first player since Steffi Graf to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back, maybe the hardest double in sports.

Venus looked very dejected after the final, slumping in her chair and staring blankly into the stands and at mother Oracene Williams. Her disappointment was evident in her post match interviews with both the BBC's Sue Barker and NBC's Bud Collins. While her words were congratulatory, she sounded short and somewhat tearful.

Lost in the splendor of the match was its history, as this was the first time ever that two African-Americans had played in a singles final and the first time sisters have ever faced for the championship. With Serena's rise to the number one spot and this championship both Williams fulfill father Richard Williams prognostication of a few years ago that both would be number one and two in the world, and both would be number one players.

Venus and Serena later teamed to win the women's doubles semifinal with a three set victory over American Chanda Rubin and Russian Anna Kournikova. The American-Russian team took the first set in a closely-contested tiebreaker, but lost steam as the "sisterhood" rolled through the next two sets. As of press time, the women's doubles final had not been played.

Now for the "Strawberries and Cream" for the fortnight:

Cream: Serena Williams' dominance in the championships and her overcoming nerves when playing sister Venus.

Strawberry: Pete Sampras' extremely early exit from the lawns of SW19 despite his "re-dedication" to the sport.

Cream: Tim Henman's march to the semifinals, giving Britain something wonderful to cheer and hope for.

Strawberry: Tim Henman's lackluster performance in the semifinals against Hewitt, including a 6-1 second set where we all wondered where he was at the time.

Cream: Anna Kournikova's quiet run to the Women's Doubles semis (although that still won't silence her sponsor Adidas' displeasure with her "Susan Luicci-esque" aversion to winning championships).

Strawberry: All of the American men, who failed to make the quarterfinals for the first time since anyone can remember, and demonstrating that maybe Andy Roddick is more hype then substance.

Cream: Mark Philipoussis' and Richard Krajchek's runs to the quarterfinals after returning from prolonged injury and surgery absences.

Strawberry: Oracene Williams bright orange afro. What was she thinking?

Cream: Daniella Hantuchova's quarterfinal appearance in singles and finals appearance in the mixed doubles.

Strawberry: John McEnroe as the "host" commentator of the championships for TNT and NBC. Please, oh please, give us back Dick Enberg!

So, there you have it. I'm heading back for some more strawberries, cream and, champagne. Hope you have some, too.

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