Sibling Rivalry Still Draws Fans
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
The women's semifinals of the United States Open are today, and a third consecutive all-Williams Grand Slam singles final is looming. If an unscientific sampling at the Open is an indicator, American tennis fans have not had their fill of the Venus and Serena show.
On the eve of the women's semifinals, 37 ticket holders of both sexes were selected yesterday on the grounds of the National Tennis Center in an attempt to represent a range of age and ethnicity. Twenty-three said they were hoping to see the sisters play each other for the third time in a major final this year. Fourteen said they were ready for a change.
Venus Williams, who is seeded No. 2, will face 10th-seeded Amélie Mauresmo of France today in the first semifinal, followed by No. 1-seeded Serena Williams's match with fourth-seeded Lindsay Davenport.
"I like the sibling rivalry," said Steve Olgin, 42, of West Windsor, N.J. "I thought they had a good match at Wimbledon. It should be based on who's the best, regardless of whether they are sisters or cousins, or black or white."
Julia Greenberg, a 14-year-old from New York, said: "I think it's kind of emotional. Because they're sisters, there is a lot going on with it besides tennis. It adds another level to the game."
Those in the minority had two primary concerns. Despite more favorable reviews in the news media of this year's Wimbledon final, which Serena won by 7-6 (4), 6-3, several fans questioned the authenticity and intensity of matches between the sisters. Others simply said they did not appreciate their power-oriented playing style.
"I just find their tennis really boring; they go out there and slam the heck out of the ball," said Ed Meinert, 23, of Manhattan. "And it doesn't help that when they play somebody else these days, it's usually a landslide. Fundamentally, there's no depth in the women's game.
"All in all, I won't stay up all night to watch it if they play. I think the Boris Becker-John McEnroe exhibition before the final will be more interesting."
Nina Jedrasiak, 70, a recreational player from Yorktown Heights, N.Y., said, "I'd love to see Lindsay Davenport play Amélie Mauresmo."
Several fans said yesterday that Davenport's recent travails — she missed the first six months of the season after knee surgery — and her outgoing personality had made her their sentimental favorite.
"I'd like to see Venus play Davenport in the final, because I think I've seen Venus and Serena play each other a few times, and I'd like to see Davenport come back," said Emma Eisenberg, 15, of New York.
But hope and logic are not the same, and the vast majority of the fans conceded that they expected to see Venus and Serena playing for the second consecutive year tomorrow night.
So which sister would the fans support? Those interviewed were divided, with 16 people backing Venus, 15 backing Serena and 6 declaring neutrality or apathy. Some expressed sympathy for Venus because of her recent three-match losing streak against Serena.
"I'd like to see them switching back all the time between No. 1 and No. 2," Eisenberg said.
The majority of fans interviewed based their judgment on personality. While many foreign fans still tend to view the Williams sisters as a two-headed, power-stroking unit (consider the cheers of "Go, Serenus" during this year's French Open final), American fans appear to have little difficulty separating them. "They obviously have their own distinct personalities, but I prefer Serena, because she seems to be thinking more outside the box in tennis," said Steve Blanc, a 42-year-old New Yorker. "There's her fashion, and she's more bubbly."
The fashion issue is divisive, however, even among Serena supporters.
"I hope she wins, but she needs a different designer," said Claire Blust, 59, of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., who added that there was no risk of Serena's form-fitting black cat suit flying off the retail racks. "There are probably only two other bodies who could look good in it," she said.
Venus's fans liked her subtler, more circumspect approach. "I think she is a little more polite; a bit better mannered," said Debra O'Connor, 43, of Manhattan. "I think Serena could be knocked down a peg or two. I'm also tired of that screaming during points. It takes a little bit of class out of tennis."
Celeste Evans of Danville, Calif., who declined to give her age, said she watched Venus play her first pro tournament in Oakland at age 14. "Venus is almost regal," she said.
She went to Flushing Meadows yesterday with her son Robert and daughter Fatima, and in a sign of how divided American fans are about the Williamses, even the family was not in agreement.
"I root for Serena," Fatima Evans said. "She's the younger sister; I'm the younger sister."