Venus vs. Serena: a rivalry that will dazzle
AILENE VOISIN: Venus vs. Serena: a rivalry that will dazzle
Copyright © 2002 Nando Media
Copyright © 2002 Scripps McClatchy Western Service
(SportServer) - With one loud, overpowering final stroke, Venus and Serena Williams quieted the critics, the skeptics, the gossips. And that was the least of it. The sisters not only stormed Wimbledon - Serena eclipsing her older sibling for the singles title and the No. 1 ranking - they introduced the sport's next great rivalry.
Finally, a worthy duel, a real dust-up, with more to come.
More power. More changes. More history. More noise.
After eight previous matchups that could be generously characterized as sloppy and uninspiring, Serena and Venus didn't merely break down their final barrier Saturday. They punched a hole in the wall, pulling women's tennis along with them. The women's game will never be the same, and accordingly, neither will the sisters.
Sibling rivalry suddenly takes on an entirely new meaning, one punctuated by crackling winners from the baselines, aces scorching the lines at 120 mph, half-volleys and volleys blitzing the near court, and the two best players in the world smashing Wimbledon tradition to smithereens with seemingly endless, ferocious rallies. Seriously, after all the blood, sweat and muscle were expended during the most dominating display of power, quickness and skill in a women's pairing, that post-match curtsy looked more than a little silly.
Of course, this, too, shall pass.
Venus-Serena is only the latest incarnation in the evolution of women's tennis.
From the moment Billie Jean King broke from the public courts of Long Beach in the 1960s, becoming the first to embrace (and promote) the notion of females as physical, aggressive athletes, the sport has darted in various directions before finally, interestingly, coming back around. Evonne Goolagong was long and spectacularly graceful, but more eager to start a family than prolong a promising career. Chris Evert introduced the two-fisted backhand and subdued opponents with precise, almost coldly efficient passing shots. Martina Navratilova was a throwback, a daring serve-and-volleyer whose style was fortified by her intense physical conditioning regimen, a first among the women.
The 1980s and early '90s featured another leap to the stinging forehands of the brilliant Steffi Graf, arguably the greatest of all champions, followed by Jennifer Capriati, another athletic, baseline slugger, and Monica Seles, an even harder-hitting lefty who pounded two-fisted strokes from both sides. Seles' emergence as Graf's obvious successor was thwarted only when a madman stabbed her during a tournament in Germany.
Next came 6-foot-2 Lindsay Davenport, her mix of overpowering serves and searing winners at times minimizing a lack of mobility, and the undersized Martina Hingis, a brilliant shotmaker and the world's top player until Venus came along.
But now, suddenly, with Davenport, Hingis and Capriati a step behind, and Seles never fully recovered from her ordeal, Venus and Serena - different folks with somewhat different strokes - are ushering in an entirely new era. And to the relief of many, their timing is impeccable: Tennis desperately craves its next great rivalry. Contrasted with the current drought in both men's and women's tennis, the last two decades offered a veritable royal feast.
Navratilova-Evert. Navratilova-Graf. Graf-Seles. Connors-Borg. Connors-McEnroe. Borg-McEnroe. Lendl-McEnroe. Becker-Edberg. Sampras-Agassi. And now, the Williams sisters.
One question remains: What took so long?
Yes, there is that. Or, there was that. Much of the catty chatter that preceded the match derives from petty jealousy. Yet some is also rooted in Venus' and Serena's unique, at times very puzzling reactions to their previous matchups or potential meetings, the curious too-common injury excuses, as well as the occasionally boorish behavior of their father, Richard. (Welcome to women's tennis.)
Richard knew his daughters, though. While skillfully orchestrating a less-is-more approach during their early years on the tour, he also projected Serena as the superior player, with Venus right behind at No. 2.
It just took time - nine times, to be exact - for the sisters to overcome their obvious discomfort and assorted misgivings and perform the way one always suspected they could - and undoubtedly have - when away from the glare of the public lights. The thicker, more athletic Serena covering the court, grunting with each punch, ever on the attack. Venus, two years older at 22, countering with blistering serves and, several inches taller at 6-1, utilizing her length, wingspan, and intriguing blend of half-volleys and deep groundies.
The sisters have arrived.