Serena Williams with sister Venus
Serena and Venus Williams will clash at Wimbledon for the first time in six years today, but the sisters’ ferocious appetite for success suggests it might be premature to bill it as an emotional final fling.
The sisters, who meet in the most anticipated fourth-round tie of the tournament, have reigned supreme for much of the last two decades at Wimbledon, lifting the aptly named Venus Rosewater Dish five times each.
With 27 Grand Slam titles between them, the siblings are well established as two of the greatest female players in the tennis history.
Taking into account their incredible rise from the bullet-scarred courts of Los Angeles—a fairytale story that led father Richard to dub his children “ghetto Cinderellas”—only increases the magnitude of the sisters’ accomplishments.
But, given their array of interests away from tennis, it would be understandable if Serena and Venus, 33 and 35 respectively, were ready to skip the twilight stage of their careers in favour of more glamourous opportunities in the worlds of fashion and film.
However, 17 years after their first tour-level meeting at the Australian Open, the sisters are still as relentlessly competitive as they were when Richard first put a racket in their hands as means to escape crime-plagued Compton.
After a troubled period three years ago, when a serious foot injury and her lust for the celebrity lifestyle seemed to have taken its toll, Serena has been reinvigorated by French coach Patrick Mouratoglou—winning seven of the last 11 Grand Slams.
A sixth Wimbledon title this year would mean Serena holds all four major titles at the same time and would put her on the brink of becoming the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win a calendar Grand Slam.
If she achieves that milestone, the world number one would also be within two titles of Margaret Court’s all-time record 24 Grand Slams.
“She’s gone through so much that no one could even imagine,” Venus said. “She never complained once. You have to give her credit for that.”
But, as Serena acknowledges, her glorious run should never overshadow Venus’s own epic achievements on and off the court.
While Serena took a while to fulfil her potential, Venus was the trailblazer as she amassed four Grand Slams by the end of 2001.
By the time Venus won her seventh and most recent Grand Slam crown, at Wimbledon in 2008, she was entrenched as the game’s dominant force and emerging as an influential campaigner for equal prize money for women. “Where do I start?” asked Serena, when asked to chart Venus’ legacy. “She’s done so much for this sport.”
But in 2011 Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Disease, an immune system disease that often leaves her exhausted.
The illness threatened to end her career, but Venus has returned to the upper echelons—reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2010 in Australia this year.
Amidst all the glory, the sisters have still been dogged by controversy and tragedy. In 2003, their eldest sister Yetunde Price was shot dead in Compton. And, as two of the few black players on the tennis tour, Venus and Serena have sometimes been at odds with their peers.
Besieged by allegations that results of matches between the pair were ‘fixed’ by Richard, the situation reached an ugly climax at Indian Wells when Venus withdrew with an injury just before her 2001 semi-final against Serena.
Playing the next day in the final against Kim Clijsters, Serena was loudly jeered, while Richard claimed he had been racially abused.
The Williams family refused to return to the tournament for 14 years until earlier this year.
Despite those painful moments, the 26th meeting of the sisters’ careers is a chance to toast the extraordinary longevity that suggests the sport’s more fascinating family aren’t done yet.
“At some point the star will fade,” Serena once said, “but I think we are just going to keep playing and playing.”
Five classic all-Williams matches
Serena and Venus Williams will meet in the Wimbledon fourth round today. Here's a look at five of the most memorable clashes between the American siblings:
2009 Wimbledon final
Serena ended Venus’s two-year reign as Wimbledon champion with a 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 victory that secured her a third All England Club crown. It was the fourth time the sisters had met in a Wimbledon final, with Serena, who now held the Wimbledon, Australian and US Open crowns, winning three of those showpiece showdowns. The 27-year-old’s 11th career win over her sibling regained the Wimbledon title she won in 2002 and 2003, and shattered five-time champion Venus’s hopes of lifting the trophy for a third successive year.
2009 Dubai Championship SF
Venus beat top-ranked Serena 6-1, 2-6, 7-6 (7/3) to take a 10-9 lead in the sibling rivalry. It was Venus’s fifth win in their last seven meetings but Serena earned plenty of plaudits as well for defying the pain of a knee injury that had forced her to retire from a tournament the previous week. It was only the second time a set had gone all the way to a tie-break in their 19 career meetings to that point.
2008 US Open quarter-final
Down 5-3 in the first set and 5-2 in the second, Serena refused to let Venus cross the finish line in a marathon New York encounter. Serena saved two set points in the first set and eight in the second, all in the two tie-breakers that she eventually won to secure a 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (9/7) victory in front of a capacity crowd, including celebrities Diana Ross, Spike Lee and Robert Redford, on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
2008 Wimbledon final
Venus clinched her fifth Wimbledon title with a 7-5, 6-4 win in one of the few really high-quality clashes between the pair at the All England Club. Venus, 28, defied blustery conditions to become one of only four players to lift the trophy five times or more in the modern era.
2003 Australian Open final
One of the most dramatic finals between the sisters came in the heat of Melbourne when Serena clinched the last Grand Slam title to elude her with a tension-filled 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-4 victory. It was only the sixth time a woman had held all four of Grand Slams at the same time, and the first since Steffi Graf in 1994.
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