Twenty-some­thing: Wil­liams sis­ters go at it again at U.S. Open

The Niagara Falls Review - - Sports - HOWARD FENDRICH

NEW YORK — Back when Ser­ena Wil­liams, then 16, and Venus Wil­liams, then 17, played ten­nis against each other on tour for the very first time, at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary 1998, no one pos­si­bly could have known it would start a series that would last for two decades.

Ac­tu­ally, Ser­ena did sort of pre­dict it.

“What you guys saw to­day,” she said af­ter los­ing to Venus way back then, “is def­i­nitely some­thing in the fu­ture to watch for.”

Well, here we are: Wil­liams vs. Wil­liams, Part 30.

When the two sis­ters meet in the third round of the U.S. Open on Fri­day night at Arthur Ashe Sta­dium, it will be their ear­li­est Grand Slam matchup since that ini­tial one 20 years ago. And across their tremen­dous jour­neys in ten­nis, through all of the vic­to­ries and the tro­phies and the weeks at No. 1 in the WTA rank­ings, they’ve done it to­gether.

Each set a stan­dard for the other to strive for.

Each also helped the other dur­ing prac­tice ses­sions and pep talks.

“I know when I play her, I have to play some of my best ten­nis. She does, too. It pro­pels us to con­tinue to play that for the tour­na­ment. It sets a tone for us,” said Ser­ena, who’ll turn 37 in less than a month. “I feel like through­out our ca­reer, we have pushed each other to be the best that we can be,” she added, “and be Venus and Ser­ena Wil­liams.”

Their story is cer­tainly unique. And one that’s still worth mar­vel­ling at.

Two kids from one house­hold, grow­ing up to rule their sport. Ser­ena owns 23 Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles; Venus has seven. Both have been ranked No. 1. They also ush­ered in an era of women’s ten­nis fea­tur­ing a power-based style, built on big serves and ground­strokes, along with en­vi­able court cov­er­age, that trans­formed the game.

“Ob­vi­ously, they have been hold­ing the torch for a long time. Venus and Ser­ena have been in­cred­i­ble ad­vo­cates for our sport and, yes, they in­spire so many,” U.S. Fed Cup cap­tain Kathy Ri­naldi said, adding that “a lot of credit goes to them” for the rise of younger Amer­i­can stars such as Sloane Stephens, the 2017 cham­pion at Flushing Meadows, and Madi­son Keys, last year’s run­ner-up.

On top of it all, they tran­scended their sport, be­com­ing cul­tural icons and fash­ion trend­set­ters, and have also spo­ken out about is­sues to help oth­ers — from Venus’ ad­vo­cacy for equal prize money in ten­nis to Ser­ena’s re­cent dis­cus­sions of her health scare dur­ing child­birth and post­par­tum de­pres­sion.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble what they’ve done. I mean, amaz­ing, re­ally. Ob­vi­ously there’s been other sib­lings that have had fan­tas­tic ca­reers in ten­nis, but none any­where close to what they’ve man­aged to achieve,” three-time ma­jor cham­pion Andy Mur­ray said. “I’d be sur­prised if any­thing like that ever hap­pens again.”

On the court, Ser­ena leads their head-to-head series 17-12. She leads 10-5 at Grand Slam tour­na­ments.

They grew ac­cus­tomed — as did the world — to see­ing them meet for all-in-the-fam­ily ma­jor fi­nals, nine in all, with Ser­ena ahead 7-2 in that cat­e­gory, too.

So a Week 1 showdown seems a tad an­ti­cli­mac­tic.

Said Venus: “I mean, ob­vi­ously, it’s early in the tour­na­ment.”

Said Ser­ena: “We would have rather met later.”

“I’m sure they will hate it — both of them hate this — but I think it’s go­ing to be beau­ti­ful for ten­nis,” said Vic­to­ria Azarenka, a two-time Aus­tralian Open cham­pion who lost to Ser­ena in two U.S. Open fi­nals.

The all-Wil­liams ti­tle match at the 2001 U.S. Open, the tour­na­ment’s first women’s fi­nal in prime time, was the first Grand Slam fi­nal be­tween two sis­ters since the 1800s.

Venus won that one; Ser­ena won their re­match in New York a year later.

“Un­for­tu­nately, and for­tu­nately, we have to play each other. We make each other bet­ter. We bring out the best when we play each other,” Ser­ena said. “I think we’re used to it now.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Venus Wil­liams, left, and sis­ter Ser­ena raise their arms af­ter a match in 1998. The ten­nis stars have been in­flu­en­tial off the court, too, ad­vo­cat­ing for var­i­ous causes and de­vel­op­ing off-court busi­nesses.

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