If you get mixed up with the numbers you’ll miss the very essence of Venus and Serena Williams. They are, above all, family.
“I’m definitely just amazed at everything she’s accomplished,” Venus Williams said after defeating Aleksandra Krunic, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to the fourth round and book another showdown with her sister, Serena. “It’s exciting to see this happen for her, and for us as a family really. It’s Serena and I, and mom and dad and all of us.”
“She’s my sister today. She’s my sister next week. She’s my sister next year,” the World No. 1 said, after another thrilling comeback — this time against fan-favorite, Heather Watson of Great Britain. “I think that’s a little more important than a match.”
From an early age, Venus and Serena learned tennis from their father Richard. He wanted them to get out of Compton, Calif., a ghetto of Los Angeles. He wanted them to make money, like he saw other tennis players earn around 1990. He had faith in his daughters, himself and the work ethic he prepared for them. It didn’t match anything the USTA had in its coffers. He read books and watched teaching pros. That was enough.
The family had faith.
“I work really hard,” Serena Williams said, after her thrilling comeback win over Britain Heather Watson 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. “I come here to compete, like hundreds of other players. That’s all I do. I’m happy to be here. I want to bring my skills to the greatest tournament on the planet. I’m happy to do it.”
The match on Monday will be their 26th meeting overall. But six years have passed since they played at Wimbledon or any major tournament. Little sister leads their head-to-head, 14-11, but the former No. 1 is the one with the most recent win — the semifinals in Montreal at Rogers Cup last fall. They have each won five Wimbledon crowns.
They are both invested in each other’s tennis career, along with the many other facets which make up their busy lives. But when their dimpled grass-court tennis shoes hit the most famous lawn in sports Monday, any extraneous mind interference will be blocked, as would a serve to the body.
“You just have to be focused,” the elder Williams declared. “There’s no easy point against Serena. No matter how she’s playing, she knows how to win.”
Although love binds these two women, there’s no question about the nature of competition between them. In terms of duration, theirs is the longest rivalry in women’s tennis, exceeding that between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
“We’ll leave everything out on the court,” the top seed said.
Centre Court’s partisan crowd undoubteldy left the No. 1 a touch miffed yesterday. She doesn’t remember such noise from British fans. At one point she wagged her finger and said, “You don’t want to go there,” as some remarks likely edged toward the inappropriate.
“I never saw a crowd like this, either,” she explained. “Heather has a tremendous fan base apparently. I’ve never heard boos here, so that was new for me. Hey, I’ve been through it all.”
Being the younger sister, she had to mount a mental game that would surpass big sister’s legendary status, leading to her first major victory 10 months ahead of schedule at the 1999 US Open.
“In the beginning it was hard because I was younger,” she said. “Playing Venus Williams was very difficult. But now it’s absolutely nothing.”
Her mental game, though, has become her trademark and an invisible weapon of choice. Yet, down 0-3 in the final set against Watson, her mind still wandered.
“I thought she was playing really well. She did everything so well. I wasn’t able to keep up. I thought maybe today just wasn’t my day. Obviously I keep fighting and thinking, ‘well, just let me keep trying to do my best.’”
She showed this mental edge throughout Roland Garros, playing five three-set matches over the tournament. In the semifinals, she ran off 10 consecutive games to defeat Timea Bacsinszky, repeating that willfulness in the final, as well, winning the last six games to win her third French Open, defeating Lucie Safarova.
“I just feel like mentally, if it’s possible, [I’m] so much stronger [there]. That’s always my strength, is my mental. The older I get, I think the tougher I get upstairs. Maybe this time next year I’ll be probably even stronger.”
Wimbledon’s Manic Monday has been called one of the greatest days in sports. All 32 men and women who’ve already advanced in the singles tournaments will get their moment to prove their worth for a coveted spot in the quarterfinals.
The sisters’ match will be hyped as perhaps the best of the tournament, but the outcome will only be so earth-shattering; it is still just the fourth round. Such is the way of seedings and the nature of this draw.
They have played at Wimbledon five times, four of them were finals — 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009. The overall head-to-head is fairly even, with the high ranked Williams leading 3-2. This week, she believes the No. 16 seed has been the better player so far.
“She’s playing so well. I’m practicing next to her every day and I’m in awe of how she’s doing.”
She said she would root for sister, if she were a spectator. “She’s been through so much. She’s had a wonderful story. She’s been so inspiring to me. She’s just an incredible person.”
With such empathy, love and admiration from the woman seeking a 21st major title, it’s difficult to imagine she can compartmentalize, shelving the respect, family bonds, and intimate corners of their relationship no one has witnessed.
“I’m playing the toughest player I’ve played in women’s tennis. That’s never fun.”
No tennis match is fun when the stakes are tied to the lawns of Wimbledon. Be that what it may, one will win and the other will lose. That’s the bottom line and it’s why matches are played.
“I think everybody’s always looking for some answer,” big sister Venus said yesterday. “And it really is you have to play the match. It doesn’t matter who’s across the net. You have to play, show up, compete, do your best, and it doesn’t change.”
For them, it’s a relationship that will continue flourishing after the last ball is struck.
A happy ending for both, according to the sisters.
Are you looking forward to watching the Williamses renew their rivalry? Sound off in the comments!