Serena simply too good on this day

WIMBLEDON, England -- From the swirl of the pomp and circumstance, to the pansies and the strawberries and cream, this has always been Venus Williams' private game reserve.

Her lean frame, long limbs and tidy footwork are the perfect tools to win on the half-baked grass of the All England Club.

She was stalking her sixth Wimbledon title, a number that would place her third behind only Martina Navratilova (nine) and Steffi Graf (seven). There was nothing to suggest Venus wouldn't do it. Venus throttled world No. 1 Dinara Safina in the semifinals 6-1, 6-0 -- the worst beating a WTA No. 1 has ever taken, going back to the origins of the rankings system. Venus had won 34 consecutive sets here and was going for the three-peat, something that hadn't happened since Graf won three straight Wimbledon titles from 1991 to '93.

Well, it didn't happen on Saturday. Venus' younger sister, Serena, happened in a very big way. After losing in last year's final to Venus -- in straight sets -- she seethed. One year later, she played with an almost disturbing violence and vengeance and won 7-6 (3), 6-2.

And then they handed Serena the sterling plate, the Venus Rosewater Dish.

"I feel like I shouldn't be holding the trophy," Serena told the Centre Court crowd. "It's named the Venus Dish, and she always wins. It hasn't settled in that I won."

Venus, downcast, congratulated Serena.

"Today she was too good," Venus said. "She had an answer for everything."

Later, she added, "I had an error here or there, and today I couldn't make errors."

That Serena took Venus down on her favorite court was a mild surprise, but step back and you will discover that she is suddenly, definitively -- for a day, anyway -- the most successful player in tennis. On either side of the aisle.

Serena, 27, currently holds three of the four Grand Slam titles, along with the U.S. Open and Australian Open. For perspective, consider that Roger Federer owns two of the four majors (the French and U.S. opens), while Rafael Nadal is the reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion. That, of course, will change Sunday. Federer can equal Serena's 3-for-4 with a victory over Andy Roddick.

It was Serena's third Wimbledon title, her first in six years. If not for little sis, who is 15 months younger, Venus' total of five championships could well be eight. Safe to say that Navratilova and Graf didn't have little sisters swiping their titles.

Serena was asked if she felt bad about preventing Venus from winning her third straight Wimbledon title.

"Oh, no," she said. "She's already among the legends. She's won seven Grand Slams on her own and five at Wimbledon. She's a living legend right now."

Serena has now won 11 majors, one fewer than Billie Jean King, who was on hand Saturday.

"It's unbelievable," said Serena. "Now I'm not even in the competition of how many I can win. Someone like Billie Jean King, someone who's really my idol, to have 12 would really be nice."

The difference in the match was the serve. Serena's was consistently solid, while Venus' was far below her standard; when she was reduced to a second serve, her most lethal weakness, Serena's eyes narrowed with predatory intent. Serena served 12 aces to only two for Venus, who also had three damaging double-faults. On the big points, Serena played with verve and, oddly, Venus lost her nerve.

Venus blamed herself for being too passive.

"I definitely would have liked to move forward," she said. "A lot of time I had short balls that were low. Toward the end, I was a little too far behind the baseline."

Early in their careers, these intra-family matches used to be awkward, almost grim affairs. There were even whispers that father Richard was calling the shots, choosing the winner before the matches were played. But as they have grown older, the sisters have shown more and more of the ferocity they usually reserve for other opponents.


"The more we play," said Serena, "the better it gets."

It sprinkled 45 minutes before the match, but the roof on Centre Court stayed open and the match began under sunny skies. For most of the first set, the Williamses were measured and fairly restrained.

The best chance for Venus came with Serena serving at 3-3. She had two break points, but Serena saved them both -- first, with a kick second serve that Venus couldn't handle, and second, when Venus had the court open but couldn't land a big hooked forehand pass on the court.

"I don't think she was recovering," Venus said. "Yeah, basically went for a little too much."

Two big serves later and Serena had escaped.

By the 10th game, they were really swinging hard and the level of tennis improved dramatically. The tiebreaker was decided on three points. Venus, serving at 2-1, hit a weak second serve and Serena crushed it, just inside the line, and Venus could only push a backhand into the net. Serving at 3-2, Serena rifled a forehand down the line for a clean winner. Down 2-4, Venus hesitated briefly and hit a makeable backhand just wide.

Serena's second set point was the charm; after a let cord brought Venus to net, Serena hit a scrambling backhand lob up and over her statuesque sister for a lovely winner.

The second set was a quick affair. Venus' double fault on break point in the sixth game gave Serena a 4-2 lead and sent the elder Williams reeling. Serena converted her fourth match point when Venus sent an off-balance backhand into the net.

And so, for the 12th straight time, a ladies' major final was decided in straight sets.

Venus made no excuses, but her heavily taped left knee may have been a significant factor. The tape, designed to support the knee, also seemed to prevent it from bending in its normal range of motion.

"I have no complaints," Venus said. "Everybody has something they're dealing with. I came close to winning and I can't blame it on anything."

For a decade now, the Williams sisters have dominated the ladies' final at the All England Club. They have won eight titles and there was only one final that did not include one of the sisters -- in 2006, when Amelie Mauresmo defeated Justine Henin.

"At the moment, we're just pushing for everything that we can," Venus said. "And maybe when all these moments are over, then we can look back and kind of be amazed. But for the moment, it's hard to have that perspective."

They live together, practice together, and on Saturday, after they met the press, they went out to play the ladies' doubles final.

"Obviously, I wanted to win the title," said Venus. "What can I say except, obviously, get ready for the next one."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.