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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July, 2005, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Wimbledon goes back to the future
By Piers Newbery
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Venus Williams
Venus Williams beat Lindsay Davenport in the final, Amelie Mauresmo blew a lead in her semi-final, the French Open champion made an early exit, the women were paid less than the men...

In some ways, Wimbledon 2005 was like stepping back in time.

But look a little deeper and there have been signs that the women's game is moving towards a bright future.

The subject of equal prize money has been a thorny one at the All England Club for many years.

And whatever the rights and wrongs, there has always been a strong argument that the men have served up greater quality, for longer, and more regularly.

That is a difficult line to take after the last two weeks.

While Roger Federer has made mincemeat of all-comers, the women produced the best three matches of the fortnight.

Venus Williams
Maybe only Venus believed she could regain the form of 2001
Maria Sharapova
Made a valiant defence and gave up title with dignity
Anastasia Myskina
For three epic three-set wins
Sania Mirza
For putting Indian women's tennis on the SW19 map in just two matches
Jane O'Donoghue
Saved British women's pride with a lone victory
Davenport against Kim Clijsters was a treat in the quarter-finals; Williams against Maria Sharapova was frightening both in terms of intensity and quality.

And the final? Davenport and Williams played the longest women's title decider in Wimbledon history, with drama every step of the way.

On the face of it, the fact that two players without a Grand Slam between them in four years made the final might be seen as a backward step.

On the contrary, the new-found depth in women's tennis has forced the 'veterans' to seriously raise their level.

Both Williams and Davenport have made much of the work they have put in at the gym and on court to keep pace with the new generation.

Indeed, it is now the turn of others to play catch-up.

Even Serena Williams' father admits she needs to take a leaf out of her sister's book and dedicate herself totally to tennis if she is to get back on top.

And while Sharapova looks set to be a Grand Slam contender for years to come, the likes of Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova have some way to go if the prophecy of Russian domination is to be fulfilled.

The Belgian pair of Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters have been hugely impressive on their return to action in recent months.

Serena Williams
Arrived unfit and made an early exit
Amelie Mauresmo
Made another Grand Slam semi, took the lead again, lost in three again...
Justine Henin-Hardenne
Left a huge void with her first-round defeat
British women
Seven wild cards required, one win delivered
Martina Navratilova
Harsh... but the search for Wimbledon title 21 goes on
Henin-Hardenne, in particular, looks capable of threatening for the number one spot, but the question of fitness will hang over both of them for some time to come.

Some things never change, and the British effort this year was as woeful as ever.

Seven women were entered in the main draw, all as wild cards, and only Jane O'Donoghue made the second round, where she took just three games off 14th seed Nathalie Dechy.

There are signs of rankings improving but the harsh fact is that in the annual shop window for tennis in this country, the women have failed again.

Women's tennis as a whole has only benefited from this year's championships though.

The old guard are fighting back, the new generation remain a growing force, and the likes of Sesil Karatantcheva, Ana Ivanovic and Nicole Vaidisova are leading an even younger wave of talent.

And at the very top level, the return of a former champion has added yet another name to the contenders for next month's US Open.

Trying to make a case against Federer on the men's side is difficult.

But picking a winner from Venus, Serena, Davenport, Henin-Hardenne, Sharapova, Clijsters, Kuznetsova and Mauresmo is all but impossible.

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