Another tough Venus-Serena Showdown this week in US Open
For the 30th time since they became professional tennis players, Venus Williams and her younger sister Serena Williams will face one another this week in a clash of two of the best to ever play the game.
For years, the sisters’ matches have been one of the most tantalizing fixtures in sports. Fans became accustomed to seeing the sisters compete against each other only at the very end of tournaments, when all the other would-be champions had packed up and gone home.
But here in the latter stages of their careers, age and family life have created new conditions. This year, they will face off in just the third round of the United States Open on Friday.
“I wouldn’t say it’s exciting,” Serena Williams said on Wednesday, “but it’s definitely going to be a really tough match for me. Once again, it’s early in the tournament. You know, it is what it is.”
Serena, who missed about year of playing time because of the birth of her daughter, is the 17th seed, and Venus, who has overcome illness and injury to prolong her own remarkable career, is seeded 16th. The luck of the draw determined the rest, placing them in the same quarter.
On Wednesday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams powered her way past Carina Witthöft of Germany, 6-2, 6-2, in their second-round clash, and Venus Williams defeated Camila Giorgi, 6-4, 7-5, earlier in the day in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Those results set up the 16th all-Williams meeting at a Grand Slam tournament, which will come at the earliest point since their first professional encounter: when 17-year-old Venus defeated 16-year-old Serena, 7-6(4), 6-1 in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open.
“Unfortunately and fortunately we have to play each other,” Serena said. “We make each other better. We bring out the best when we play each other. It’s what we do. So, I think we’re used to it now.”
Serena, 36, has had the better of the rivalry in Grand Slam matches, with a 10-5 record against the 38-year-old Venus. The last time the sisters played in a major tournament was at the 2017 Australian Open final, which Serena won, while pregnant, for her 23rd Grand Slam title.
Venus, whose last Grand Slam title came more than a decade ago, joked on court after her win on Wednesday that their final in Melbourne had been an unfair matchup: two against one.
But later in the interview room, she was less eager to discuss the matchup, which invokes unique emotions for both players and poses unusual tactical on-court challenges, as well.
“Obviously it’s early in the tournament, so both of us are going to be looking forward to continuing to play better,” Venus said. “Obviously, it’s definitely a tough draw.”
After two more questions about the matchup, Venus was done discussing it.
“Any other questions about anything else?” she asked.
Later, after Serena had beaten Witthöft under the lights in Ashe Stadium, she laughed when informed that Venus had called their Australian Open final a two-on-one mismatch. Turning serious, Serena added that Friday’s meeting would be “incredibly hard,” even though Venus has not beaten Serena in a Grand Slam event since the 2008 Wimbledon final.
“Normally I would say cheer for me,” Serena said, “but whoever you are feeling like, me or Venus, that works.”
Venus, however, does have the most recent victory in the rivalry, a straight-sets victory in Indian Wells, Calif., in March — Serena’s first singles tournament after the birth of her child. Serena still holds a 17-12 overall record against her older sister, and their 15 meetings at Grand Slam events is second only to the 22 contested between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Serena is seeking her seventh U.S. Open title this year, which would break a tie with Evert for most in the Open era, and securing her 24th major trophy would break a tie with Margaret Court for the most in any era.
Venus has won seven major titles, but none since she defeated Serena at Wimbledon in 2008. To add to that tally, she will once again have to find a way past her sister. But Serena’s results have been mixed since her return to the tour in March as she has tried to regain her form. She lost in the first round in Miami later that month, then won three matches at the French Open before dropping out with an injured pectoral muscle.
“I try to just realize that I’m human, whether people do or not,” Serena said. “The expectations are great. But I like having that expectation on my shoulders because it takes me out of mediocrity. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
She looked like her old self at Wimbledon, making it all the way to the final before falling to Angelique Kerber in straight sets. That was the most encouraging marker in her comeback, and a sign that she still has the quality and desire to win major championships.
Unfortunately for Serena, it could come against her favorite player.
“I never root against her, no matter what,” Serena said. “So I think that’s the toughest part for me. When you always want someone to win, to have to beat them. I know the same thing is for her. When she beats me, she always roots for me as well. I think that’s just the hardest part.”
Cover photo: Serena Williams after her second-round victory over Carina Witthöft on Wednesday. Photo: Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times