Venus beat her sister Serena and Rafa beat Roger at Wimbledon in a totally glorious weekend of tennis at Wimbledon

Roger Federer had come back from two sets down to even the match at 2-2 in the fifth set of his Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal when the rains came a second time. This was five hours and 17 minutes after the match had started and it seemed like a good time to sneak upstairs to the kitchen for a snack. On the radio, ESPN sports radio host Freddie Coleman was comparing Roger’s comeback to Tiger Woods’ “victory at broken knee.” Woods recently won golf’s version of the U.S. Open with a torn cruciate ligament and a double stress fracture in the same leg.

I’m not sure about that comparison and Roger had yet to win, but I was very happy to discover that a national sports program was hanging on every point of a tennis match. In between following the match, Coleman chided us for criticizing the outside interests of Serena and Venus Williams. Martina Hingis was consumed by tennis and where is she now? Kim Clijsters was consumed by tennis and where is she now? Justine Henin was consumed by tennis and where is she now?

Go ahead, criticize the sisters for wanting to get into acting and fashion design, but who’s got the most slams now? Serena passed Hinging and Henin with eight slams, Venus passed Hingis and is now even with Henin at seven slams. So Coleman is right to crow a little, but it’s hard not to think of what might have been. Serena needs four more slams to pull even with Billie Jean King and I’ll be heartbroken if she doesn’t get there. If she doesn’t, I’ll just remind myself that Billie Jean never had to beat the person she loved most to win more than a few of those titles.

I keep forgetting that Serena is the little sister because she’s the one with attitude to burn, but it burns just that slightest bit less against big sister and that was part of the problem in their Wimbledon final this year.

Serena started the match with a return winner and finished the first game with a strong backhand cross court to go up a break right away, and she wasn’t taking it easy on her sister. Venus won her second service game but not until she’d put away a hard shot aimed directly at her belly button.

The level of tennis was fantastic to start the match but Venus kept applying pressure with big returns until the she got the break back to even the first set at four all. Serena got a break point in the next game but Venus is the best grass court player in the women’s game. She’s the hardest server and she covers the most ground with those gangly legs of hers, and she managed to fight off the break point. Then Serena’s little sister syndrome made an appearance.

Venus had game point when Serena hit a shot and yelled “out.” The ball didn’t go out, it landed on the line, and the chair umpire called “let, replay the point” because Serena had hindered Venus by yelling during the point. Instead of replaying, Serena walked to the sideline and gave Venus the point and the game.

I don’t know if Serena would have yelled like that in a match with any other opponent – maybe she momentarily lost track and thought she was in a practice match with Venus. We don’t really know because she brushed off two questions about it in the post-match media session. But I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have given the point to any other opponent. She would have replayed it.

Venus is often faulted for having a weak second serve but it was Serena who won exactly one point on her second serve in the first set. When Serena served to stay in the set at 5-6, Venus ate up those second serves to win the game and the set.

Serena started off the second set with a return winner too and she also got a break point, but Venus had been hitting huge serves into Serena’s body all day and it got her out of the game. Serena got more break points in Venus’ next service game and she absolutely fought her heart out. It was the best game I’ve ever seen them play.

Serena got one of those break points with a with a beautiful stab volley while Venus saved four break points with second serves and hit a second serve ace. Finally, on Serena’s seventh break point in the game, Venus slipped backwards on the worn grass behind the baseline and Serena had her break to go up 2-1.

Venus was probably mad that she lost on a TKO – and that last game looked like a boxing match – because she broke right back. The big sister doesn’t always play her best against Serena either. This is the third Wimbledon final they’ve played and Venus lost the first two. But when Venus does play well on grass, no one in the world can beat her and she did play well.

Serena found herself facing two match points while serving to stay in the match at 4-5. She erased the first one with an ace and played a very good point on the second, but Venus was the better player.

Serena gathered herself then went out and won the doubles title with Venus. If it’s hard playing your sister for a coveted slam title and losing, how hard is it to put that away and go out and play a doubles final with her a little while later? This was their 12th doubles title, seven of which have been in slams. If they hadn’t already qualified for the Hall of Fame in singles, they’d be there in doubles for that number alone.

The first rain delay in the match between Roger and Rafa came in the third set. Just as Roger benefited from the first rain delay – he was already down two sets to none – Rafa should have benefited from that second rain delay because he’d just lost the third and fourth set. Roger had been having trouble with his serve so the match momentum had been heading towards neutral. Good thing, then, that Roger started right in with an ace and a service winner to close out the game and go up 3-2 in the fifth set.

Roger is still my boy, I’ve got plenty of time to fall in love with Rafa, and all Roger had to do was hold serve then get to the tiebreaker because he had 19 aces already and he’d won the third and fourth sets with tiebreakers. Then my heart sunk. There is no tiebreaker in the fifth set at Wimbledon and Rafa was the guy getting the breaks of serve, not Roger. So when Roger got down 0-30 with the fifth set even at 7-7, I thought to myself, “Here it comes, Rafa will now get his Wimbledon trophy.” Then I started writing my closing paragraph.

Rafa did break Roger and then served for the set as the dark was coming down and the clock was getting very close to 9:30pm – the witching hour. Roger flicked an impossibly sharp backhand winner off an equally wide serve to fight off Rafa’s third match point, but on the next match point, Roger put an approach into the net and the longest match in Wimbledon final history – all four hours and 48 minutes of it – was over.

Roger is no longer the king and I’m unhappy about that. I wanted Roger to come back from two sets down so that the local sports gods would hang on every point in the next slam. But now that Roger has lost, now that he’s 0-3 in slams this year, now that he
s failed to win his sixth straight Wimbledon title, it won’t happen. It won’t happen because Roger is now on the way down and the greater sports world will move on. If he can’t fight off the young Spaniard or win a major on a broken knee, well, we’ve got beach volleyball up next for you.

John McEnroe was being gracious with Roger when he interviewed him after the match. He said “It was the greatest match I’ve ever witnessed.” It wasn’t the best match of all time, it wasn’t even the best Wimbledon match of all time, and McEnroe should know because he played in it. The 1980 McEnroeBorg final holds that honor for the 18-16 fourth set tiebreaker that McEnroe won after saving five match points and the steely calm that allowed Borg to shake it off and take the fifth set 8-6.

That was Borg’s last Wimbledon title and here was Roger poised to pass him with six straight titles in an almost equally dramatic match, but there were no tiebreakers left to play and he hadn’t broken Rafa since the second set and wouldn’t break him again and, anyway, it was Rafa who was making like Borg, not Roger. He was the guy who shook off the third and fourth set and hung around to win the fifth 9-7.

Maybe it was Borg’s shoulder Roger should have been crying on but it was McEnroe’s instead and that was the next best thing. McEnroe offered Roger a sympathetic hug and was sensitive enough to cut the interview short so Roger could shed the rest of his tears in private.

As for me, I am now officially in love with Rafa. I know, I know, I’m one of those quick-change what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports commentators I mentioned above, but it’s time. It was almost time last year but Rafa had the slightest letdown in the fifth set and surely the time has arrived considering that Rafa cut his way through the clay court season yet again and made Andy Roddick look like Vince Spadea at Queen’s Club on the grass.

And how much better could it get? We go directly from one supreme champion to another and we’ve still got the Williams sisters fighting it out in slam finals. That is known as tennis heaven.

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