Friday, September 24, 2021

Wayback Wednesday, 2001 & 2007: The Williams’ wild Miami comebacks |

While the incredible ascent of Venus and Serena Williams began in Southern California, it soared to remarkable heights soon after the two sisters relocated to Florida and further sharpened their considerable skills.

Naturally, the Williams’ have long savored the chance to compete at the Miami Open. Starting in 1998, they have collectively won the singles title a staggering 11 times—three for Venus (1998, 1999, 2001), eight for Serena (2002-2004, 2007, 2008, 2013-2015).

Two of their most impressive efforts came on March 31.

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Twenty years ago, Venus squared off in the finals versus a fellow Floridian, Jennifer Capriati. Venus had won their only previous meeting, a three-setter that was also played in Miami in 1997.

Since that time, though, Capriati had taken a major step forward, winning her first Grand Slam singles title at the 2001 Australian Open. In Miami, she’d beaten Serena in the quarters and in the semis and dominated Elena Dementieva, 6-0, 6-2; in all, she earned five victories on the way to the finals without the loss of a set.

Venus also reached the finals with dropping a set, including a semifinal win over world No. 1 Martina Hingis.

The final was up-and-down. On an extremely muggy and windy day, each struggled for form, mostly in the serve department—27 combined double-faults. But that took a back seat to the late-stage drama. 

Capriati won the first set, 6-4. Venus rebounded sharply in the second, tearing through it, 6-1. In the third, Capriati broke Venus at 4-all. Serving to clinch it at 5-4, Capriati lost three championship points. Again, she broke Venus’ serve—and again, stood one point away from victory. On her eighth and what would be her final championship point, she double faulted.

With the title now coming down to a decisive tiebreaker, Venus jumped ahead 6-1, lost three match points of her own—but at last closed it out after two hours and 24 minutes. 

“I think most of all it was the heat, but we both pushed each other to the limit,” said Venus.

“It was just really close . . . I don’t know what happened,” said Capriati. “It was just so close and on those points I didn’t have the luck.”  

These two were clearly the best players of 2001, Capriati going on to win the title at RolandGarros, Venus winning both Wimbledon and the US Open for the second year in a row.

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Not to be outdone by anyone—including her beloved older sister—Serena six years later showed her own brand of tenacity. She too was up against a forceful peer in the finals, in this case, Justine Henin. By this stage in their rivalry, Serena led 5-3. But it had also been more than three years since they’d last played one another.

Serena began 2007 ranked 81th in the world—and made a major statement when she won the Australian Open. By the time Serena arrived in Miami, she was ranked 18th. She reached the finals without the loss of a set. Most notable was a 6-1, 6-1 victory over world No. 2 and reigning US Open champion, Maria Sharapova.

Henin was then ranked No. 1 in the world, the result of a remarkable 2006 that saw her make the finals at all four majors, including a title at Roland Garros. Her run to the finals in Miami included two tight matches—a third-set tiebreaker versus Virginie Razzano, and a 7-6, 7-6 win over Nadia Petrova.

Serena began the match poorly, scratching for form. Henin sizzled, capturing the opener, 6-0, in just 26 minutes. After breaking Serena at 4-all with a crisp overhead winner, Henin served for the title at 5-4 and arrived at championship point at 40-15. Serena erased both with forceful groundstrokes. Soon enough, she won the second set, 7-5.

Rapidly building of that momentum, Serena took a 3-0 lead in the third and closed it out at 5-3 on her first match point with a service winner.  

“I had many chances, many opportunities,” said Henin. “Serena is a fighter, she never gives up. It is tough to close the matches against her because she goes for it.”

“It’s just not in me to give up, I just keep fighting,” said Serena. “I feel when I get down a part of me plays better. I think all champions have that, when they get down you can’t hold them down.”

Fourteen years later, the Williams sisters continue competing.

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