Olympic Memories: Sydney
Published July 30, 2012 04:21
Chapter four of tennis' history as a modern day Olympic sport was written in Sydney as the Games entered the new millennium and a new generation of stars looked to make their mark...
Sydney, Australia, 2000
Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Center
The Olympic motto inscribed above the player's entrance to the Sydney Olympic Tennis Center reads "Citius, altius, fortius", and it is fitting that the player who moved faster, jumped higher and hit stronger than any other in 2000 was the one with a gold medal draped round her neck at the end of the Games.
Looking back, it is strange to think that going into the 2000 season there were question marks hanging over Venus Williams. Since breaking through at the 1997 US Open, Williams had struggled to deliver the results her talent deserved, watching her rivals - Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and even sister, Serena - take home the major prizes.
This all changed in 2000 as Williams finally shook off her tag as tennis' nearly woman by winning Wimbledon and the US Open. On the back of these triumphs, she arrived Down Under riding high on a 26-match winning streak and, despite not being on top of the rankings, was definitely the player to beat.
However, for Davenport, who struck gold four years earlier, the Games would end early, when a foot injury forced her to withdraw prior to her second round match with Rossana de los Ríos.
Seles, meanwhile, eager to make up for the disappointment of a quarterfinal exit in Atlanta, was in fearsome form, racing past her first four opponents and into the semifinals. Waiting for her there was Williams.
In four previous meetings between the two, Seles has won a solitary set and her fortunes were not about to change; despite a mid-match walkabout on serve, Williams always had the upper hand, eventually winning in three.
The final itself proved to be something of an anticlimax.
Few expected 18-year-old Elena Dementieva to make it that far, and for the first set she looked in a state of shock herself. By the time she did settle, it was too late, Williams had found her groove and was racing off towards the finish line.
The harder the Russian tried, the better Williams played. Whatever she attempted - inside out forehands, down the line backhands all came back with interest - merely succeeded in inspiring the American.
Before long match point had arrived, and moments later Williams was dancing round the court, racquet in one hand, flag in the other. A memorable end to a memorable summer.
Olympic Memories: Atlanta
Olympic Memories: Barcelona
Olympic Memories: Seoul