After she had battled back from a wobbly start, fended off one match point and survived 10 double faults to win the longest women's final in Wimbledon history Saturday, Venus Williams tossed her tennis racket to the heavens and exploded with joy, jumping up and down with a smile that could span the English Channel.
In defeating top-seeded Lindsay Davenport, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 9-7, to win her third Wimbledon championship, Williams declared to the world what she has been telling herself throughout an 18-month competitive slump: She is a champion at heart, ready to reclaim her place atop the women's game.
"I feel great to have accomplished this," Williams said. "But I feel like I want to do a whole lot more."
Though Saturday's match marked Williams's fifth Wimbledon final in the past six years, she wasn't expect to contend for the title, having tumbled out of the top 15 in the rankings in recent months. But she claimed her first Grand Slam since the 2001 U.S. Open in the most satisfying way possible.
Williams became the lowest seed, 14th, to win Wimbledon's women's title in the Open era.
Along the way, she toppled the world's No. 1 and 2 players in a three-day span -- dethroning Maria Sharapova in a thrilling semifinal and then outslugging Davenport, who held a 14-12 advantage against Williams entering the tournament.
Best of all, Williams won the title on grit and desire, clawing her way out of a deficit after falling behind early during 2 hours 45 minutes of sometimes ragged, sometimes brilliant tennis.
"I was just thinking, 'I've got to stay tougher. I've got to stay tougher than whoever's across the net,' " said Williams, 25.
Davenport had plenty of chances to win her fourth Grand Slam title. After winning the first set, she took a 6-5 lead in the second and served for the match. But Williams fired off three consecutive winners to break her and force a tiebreaker, which she won, 7-4.
Then, serving at 4-5 in the third set, Williams double-faulted to hand Davenport match point. But in a flash, Williams snuffed out the opportunity with a blistering backhand winner.
"I don't really feel that I have anything to hang my head for or really be ashamed of," said Davenport, who called for a trainer late in the match to knead out a strained back muscle. "She hit some great first serves at some crucial times. She didn't really give me a look at any second serves on big points. She just took it away from me every time I got up. She was just incredible. Whenever I felt like I was just about to shut the door completely, it was like, 'Oops, let's open that back up.' "
At 29, Davenport isn't likely to face many more days on court that hold such glorious possibilities. But unlike last year, when she left Wimbledon all but convinced she was ready to retire, she didn't talk about endings Saturday.
"I'm playing better now than I have in years," said Davenport, who reached the final of the Australian Open in January, losing to Venus's younger sister, Serena. "I'm not going to give up on the opportunities that present themselves to me. I've got the U.S. Open in six weeks. Hopefully, this will encourage me to keep going this summer."
And what a summer of tennis it will be, former champion Tracy Austin mused afterward, with Venus Williams back in the mix.
"She wasn't in my pick of favorites" for Wimbledon, Austin said, "but it's great to have her back on top of the heap. She's one of the biggest stars of women's tennis."
While Austin noted that the quality of tennis in Saturday's final didn't approach that of Williams's match against Sharapova, what impressed her was the way Williams fought through the rough patches. "Venus was just scratching and clawing," Austin said. "She was not in the match. She wasn't finding her serve. She was nervous on her second serve. But to will yourself to win!"
Davenport pounced quickly, breaking Williams's serve in the third game and bolting to a 5-2 lead. Williams answered with nine consecutive points to pull within 4-5. But Davenport closed the set, 6-4, in 33 minutes.
They stayed on serve in the second set, but it was clear Williams wasn't bringing all of her firepower to bear. Her first serve failed her badly, and her groundstrokes lacked the ruthless precision they had against Sharapova.
Davenport finally broke her to take a 6-5 lead, driving Williams into the corners with punishing groundstrokes until she went sprawling onto the court. Prone on the ground, Williams stabbed her racket at one final shot. After she picked herself up, she was never quite the same.
Williams immediately broke back to force the tiebreaker and jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing it out.
Davenport broke early in the third set for a 4-2 lead. Williams broke back, and Davenport called for the trainer during the changeover.
Though the set was back on serve, the momentum had swung Williams's way. Whenever Davenport hit a good shot, Williams answered with a better one. Whenever Williams flubbed a serve, she followed with a winner. Still, Davenport didn't go down easily, trading groundstrokes until her last, a forehand plowed into the net.
"It's been a tough two years," said Williams's mother, Oracene Price, as she left Center Court. Asked if she ever doubted that Venus would win another Grand Slam, she said: "No. She may have, a little bit. But I didn't; I know what she's got in her."