If the sun is indeed setting on American tennis, Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams couldn't have chosen a grander stage than Wimbledon to unleash a defiant roar against the doomsayers.
Davenport needed just three minutes Friday to finish off Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, who was four points from defeat when rain halted their semifinal the previous night, and set up an all-American clash in Saturday's Wimbledon final.
Williams had secured her spot -- her fifth Wimbledon final in the last six years -- a day earlier by overpowering defending champion Maria Sharapova in straight sets.
It was hardly the final pundits anticipated when the tournament's draw was unveiled. Though the top-ranked Davenport drew the top seed, many considered her a step too slow and a tad too old, at 29, to play well enough over two weeks to earn a spot in the final.
And Williams, Wimbledon's champion in 2000 and 2001, wasn't regarded as a contender because her performance had suffered since she tore an abdominal muscle in 2003. She hadn't appeared in a Grand Slam final since. Her ranking had dropped steadily, and tournament officials seeded her a humble 14th.
By storming into Saturday's final, Davenport turned back the clock and struck a blow for the value of experience. And in steamrolling past Sharapova, the 25-year-old Williams declared her own return to form and silenced the skeptics who said she was too distracted by other pursuits to ever make it back to the top.
"I don't leave it up to the next person to believe in me," Williams said Friday, "because no matter how much the next person believes in me or doesn't believe in me -- or says I'm not going to do it or whatever it is -- they can't walk in my shoes. They can't breathe the air I breathe. They can't live inside my world."
Davenport wasn't as convincing in her semifinal against Mauresmo. She started slowly Thursday, lost her serve at one point with two double faults, played a shaky tiebreaker and fought back, only to seize the momentum when the rain started falling. Play was halted in the third set with Mauresmo serving at 15-love, trailing three games to five. Neither welcomed the prospect of a restless night, with such importance business left unfinished.
"To come back in that situation, it was brutal," Davenport said.
Mauresmo slept in fits and starts, her mind racing with different strategies for handling Davenport's big serve. Davenport found sleeping the easy part; it was being awake that made her antsy.
Typically a slow starter, Davenport spent an hour hitting balls Friday morning to make sure she'd come out strong when the match resumed at 1 p.m. Mauresmo had the same goal and held serve at love, to make it 4-5.
That gave Davenport a chance to serve out the match. And her serve didn't fail her; Mauresmo could barely get her racket on the ball. And Davenport's reward is her second Grand Slam final in five years, as well as her 27th career meeting with Williams, whom she has played more than any woman on the tour.
Short of being sisters, Davenport and Williams could hardly know one another's game better.
Davenport isn't nearly as mobile; Williams isn't always as accurate with her groundstrokes. Both rely on huge serves and big forehands. And both love playing on grass, a quick surface that keeps rallies short.
"I think playing her is very similar to playing me," said Williams. "I'm probably going to get to a few more balls. I have a bigger serve and that kind of thing. But definitely -- somewhat looking at me across the court."
Davenport holds a 14-12 edge in their meetings and has won the last four contests. But Williams is playing like the Venus of old -- firing rocket-like serves, pounding the ball with tremendous pace and keeping her errors to a minimum.
"I'm pretty much in the moment right now," Williams said. "I feel like I deserve to be where I am."