Williamses Smash Their Way to Final
September 7, 2002
Williamses Smash Their Way to Final
By SELENA ROBERTS
here was only one way for Venus Williams to soothe the disbelief that washed over her angular face when her sister Serena took Wimbledon away from her, and only one way to cope with a crowd that was oddly ambivalent during her most desperate moment yesterday.
She had to fight through this. If Venus wanted to secure a place in tonight's United States Open final, if she wanted to end the improbable drama of her semifinal as she served for the match, she had to erase three break points in the 10th game of the third set against Amélie Mauresmo.
So, she detached herself from every emotion — nerves, fear, disappointment — and mechanically unloaded serves that crashed like Pacific waves in front of a defenseless Mauresmo. As an encore to a 114-mile-an-hour ace to bring the game to deuce, Venus uncoiled another serve at 122 m.p.h. that left Mauresmo using her racket as a shield.
Finally, Venus had match point. Once Mauresmo pulled a cross-court return wide, Venus closed her eyes. When she opened them, she could see herself in the United States Open final after winning, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Close to two hours later, Serena fulfilled her family duty by crawling out of her own patch of trouble against Lindsay Davenport to win, 6-3, 7-5, advancing to meet her older sister in a major final for the fourth time in five Grand Slam events.
"Most amazing thing in sports almost," the fourth-seeded Davenport said. "They don't have teammates to help them along."
They barely have crowd support. There was a decent reason for the fans to be in Davenport's corner more than Serena's yesterday. After all, Davenport was the underdog American, on the mend from knee surgery, with an Open title in her past.
But Mauresmo? She was the 10th-seeded Frenchwoman many inside Arthur Ashe Stadium hardly knew, yet they cheered wildly for Mauresmo when the match was at risk of slipping away from Venus.
Someone rudely shouted to distract Venus when she tossed the ball on her serve. Two games earlier, several fans booed the linesmen when an iffy call went against Mauresmo.
It was curious behavior. The fans had gotten their money's worth in a two-hour match, having seen both players indulge in a game of Risk with their all-or-nothing swipes at the ball. Still, just as many voices shouted in support of Mauresmo as for a defending champion who embodies the American dream.
"You know what's wrong," said Oracene Williams, the mother of Serena and Venus. "You can surmise that for yourself."
The subtleties of racism exist whenever the Williams sisters play. Neither Venus nor Serena ever bring it up, discuss it or complain about it. But they are aware of the bias implied every time the same old issue arises: Is an all-Williams final good for the game of tennis?
"To be honest, I don't see why the question could be relevant, why it would be bad for tennis," Venus said. "It's never been asked before."
Were Chrissie and Martina bad for tennis? Steffi and Monica? Are Pete and Andre?
"It's just hard these days," the second-seeded Venus said. "When you win, there's a problem. When you lose, there's a problem. So what do you want me to do?"
Very much on her own, Venus decided to win yesterday. Serena, ranked No. 1, did the same. Once Davenport began to get a feel for Serena's roundhouse forehand and started to measure her opponent's heated serve, the runaway match started to turn.
But down by 5-2 in the second set, Serena ran off five straight games with a mix of might and mind. In the 10th game of the second set, with Serena facing three set points on her serve, she came though, just like Venus had. With an ace, a service winner and a crushing forehand winner, Serena held off Davenport's bid for the second set.
Davenport's dashed spirits were transparent. At 5-5, she began with a double fault and was broken at love, allowing Serena to serve out the match and pick up her 13th ace along the way. Now, she has a chance to win her third straight major, each against Venus.
"Obviously, I want to win more than anything," said Serena, who won her first major at the 1999 United States Open. "We'll see."
Venus has not been as sharp this week. She has seemed drained by a cold, bothered by a blister and perhaps aware that her sister is playing with an edge she may not be able to match in the final.
Even so, Venus willed herself to meet Serena by getting around Mauresmo's attack plan. The Frenchwoman used clever slices and wicked topspins, swashbuckling groundstrokes and a sneaky net approach, all in an effort to cross up Venus and break up the Williams sisters' path to the major finals.
"As I say, they're not going to be in the finals forever," Mauresmo said.
Mauresmo is not a big supporter of the Williams sisters. She has called their matchups a bore for fans and suggested their meetings have been fixed in the past. In an interview with the French reporters yesterday, Mauresmo was asked if she admired the way Venus fought back from love-40 to win the match.
"For sure, she got back from 0-40, but, no, I don't admire her," Mauresmo said. "That means what it means."
Whatever tension surrounded Venus and Serena yesterday, it is over for now.
"Until 8:30 p.m., we'll be friends," Serena said of tonight's final. "When the match is over, we'll be friends again."
One year ago, Serena was not equipped to deal with their first major meeting. So much has change since the 2001 United States Open. When Serena defeated Venus for the French Open title in June, Venus reacted joyfully, snapping pictures of her little sister's trophy ceremony.
Wimbledon was very different, though. That was Venus's court, her grassy turf, but Serena sneaked into her backyard and came away with match point. As the two met at the net, Venus revealed the same look of shock as she did when Serena became the first to win a major at the 1999 United States Open.
Venus still leads the family with four majors to Serena's three, but she has made it clear she does not want to settle for another consolation prize this year.
"She really wants this one," Oracene said of Venus. "She was disappointed at Wimbledon, as you know."
Venus gave herself a chance at the final by leaning on herself yesterday when her chance to seize a semifinal match could have escaped her in the 10th game of the third set.
"I suppose I just didn't want to let the game go," Venus said. "So it was nice to have a good service game when I was on the brink of losing it."
Under polite applause, Venus waved to all fans, supporters and those who cheered against her.
"I don't know," Venus said. "At least I wanted myself to win out there."