There was the yelp again, the same one she let loose after winning her semifinal match, but this time it was accompanied by tears and the thunderous applause that comes from winning Wimbledon. Lindsay Davenport had closed out a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Steffi Graf so quickly and calmly today that even she seemed surprised by all the sudden noise -- some of which had come from her own mouth.
"I was in more shock than anything -- I didn't quite know what to do," Davenport said before playing for the women's doubles title, which she also won. "I'm telling you, it was the most unbelievable thing. I was not nervous. It was so bizarre."
Davenport stood in place for another moment, half-crying, half-grinning, before turning toward the net to hug Graf. The moment was poignant for both women, marking Davenport's first Wimbledon title and Graf's last appearance on Centre Court. The seven-time Wimbledon champion announced after the match that she will not return to this tournament, a decision she made weeks ago but kept to herself until the last moment.
Unlike German compatriot Boris Becker, who used this fortnight as a farewell tour, Graf didn't even give the crowd a special wave as she took her final steps off the court.
"I just felt it was Lindsay's day and I wanted to keep it that way," said Graf, 30, who already had announced that she will no longer play in the French Open, which she won last month. She would not discuss whether she plans to retire later this year or if she will seek a 23rd Grand Slam title by playing in the U.S. Open in September, although she had kind words for the All England club that has been the site of so many of her triumphs.
"The last few weeks have been pretty amazing," Graf said. "It's obvious that I'm disappointed about losing the finals, but I do have to say it's been great. . . . Leaving is a decision, and I've been pretty sure about it for a long time."
Graf said she would have made this her last Wimbledon whether she won or lost today, but Davenport, 23, never gave her the chance to weigh those options. The 6-foot-2 Southern Californian arrived at the match without having dropped a set in this tournament -- a feat she also accomplished on her way to winning the U.S. Open last year -- and she got off to an equally strong start today by breaking Graf in the opening game. She then stood firm by fending off the break point Graf earned in her own first service game, and she never let Graf have another opening in claiming the first set.
It was a few minutes later that the sky grew dark, and then finally the rain that has plagued this event dropped in for a brief visit, chasing the players off the court for about 30 minutes. The second set was still on serve at that point, but Graf was ahead, 5-4, and Davenport felt the break helped her gather her concentration.
"It helped me calm down, just relax about the whole thing and look at the situation," she said. "I said, `My gosh, I'm doing so well. I'm so close. I can do this.' You don't have that time to think when you're on the court."
When play resumed, Davenport held her service game and then broke Graf's, finishing the game's final point by pounding a forehand crosscourt. Graf ran down the ball and extended her racket, but the ball touched only the frame, bouncing into the air and well out of bounds.
The rest came in a rush: Davenport began the final game with an ace and ended it with another heavy serve that Graf flung into the net. Then came the yelp and the tears, and finally, the large silver plate Davenport once thought could never be hers.
A baseliner with an aversion to grass, Davenport had begun her career disliking Wimbledon. She felt even more disdain for the tournament after losing in the second round in 1996 and 1997, but she persevered. She gained more confidence in her all-around game after winning at Flushing Meadows in September, grabbing the No. 1 ranking in the process, and although she lost the top spot to Martina Hingis in February, she still came into this tournament feeling she could win.
While many of her competitors had prepared for Wimbledon by playing in grass-court warmup tournaments, Davenport had been home in Newport Beach, Calif., practicing on a makeshift grass court in her neighbor's backyard. Her coach had even brought some special Wimbledon-weight tennis balls to hit, and the two spent hours practicing under the warm California sun.
"Physically, I'm in a lot better shape and more flexible and quicker on grass than a few years ago, but I think mentally more than anything is that I really believe I deserve to be out there," said Davenport, who found out Saturday that her performance here had gained her the No. 1 ranking again. She is also taking home two checks: a $655,200 prize for her singles title and $134,216 for winning the doubles with Corina Morariu.
"When I got up serving for the match [against Graf], I believed that no matter what, I could do this, and I didn't have any doubts," she said. "It's an amazing feeling when you've worked to get better at that and it does happen.
"I mean, I've won the two biggest tournaments there are in the world. A few players can say that, but not many."
ALL-AMERICAN SINGLES CHAMPIONS
1999: Pete Sampras, Lindsay Davenport
1984: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova
1983: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova
1982: Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova
1981: John McEnroe, Chris Evert Lloyd
1975: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King
1974: Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert
1972: Stan Smith, Billie Jean King
1955: Tony Trabert, Louise Brough
1953: Vic Seixas, Maureen Connolly
1952: Frank Sedgman, Maureen Connolly
1951: Dick Savitt, Doris Hart
1947: Jack Kramer, Margaret Osborne
1939: Bobby Riggs, Alice Marble
1938: Don Budge, Helen Wills Moody
1933: Jack Crawford, Helen Wills Moody
1932: Ellsworth Vines, Helen Wills Moody
1930: Bill Tilden, Helen Wills Moody
CAPTION: It's a banner day at the All England club for Americans Lindsay Davenport, who won first Wimbledon title, and Pete Sampras, who captured his sixth.
CAPTION: Lindsay Davenport, who returns to the top of the rankings today, shows off her singles trophy. She also teamed with Corina Morariu to win doubles.
CAPTION: Steffi Graf, the winner of 22 Grand Slam titles, shows some frustration while failing to win No. 23 in what she said was her final match at Wimbledon.