Serena Williams Is Making Sister Rivalry One-Sided
By SELENA ROBERTS
n the beginning, Venus Williams handed down the secret formula to her little sister, Serena, provided all the answers in the back of the book, but last night the one who took on tennis first left the court worn down from a season of disheartening discovery: the copy has become better than the original.
Although visibly drained, Venus Williams is not the type to expose her emotions in an Oprah-style catharsis. So, she forced a smile after Serena Williams picked her apart during a 6-4, 6-3 victory for the United States Open championship; and Venus patted her younger sister on the shoulder after Serena's third major championship in a row, each at Venus's expense.
It is not easy being big all the time, but Venus tried, with only a hint of envy.
"I think she has had a great year," Venus said. "I think she's had a great schedule as far as having rest.
"I'm trying to play enough tournaments in the schedule to, I guess, make the Tour happy. It's year after year for me, playing and defending points. It's just hard to play as well every year. I think I did play well, except there was always a better player standing in front of me."
It was always Serena. She joined six other women in history who have won three consecutive majors in a calendar year — the French Open, Wimbledon and the United States Open. She missed the Australian Open because of an injury. "A Serena Slam," said Serena.
With crisper shot-making and a grunt behind every winner, Serena left Venus searching for a crawl space by the end of the night. Now, Venus just wants to disappear from fame, to go home for a while.
"I just have to tune out everything; people just wear you to death, talk so much," Venus said. "I just want to get away from the hype."
A year ago, Venus Williams was all but carbonated as the giddy sibling on her way to making history, the one who hugged her little sister after taking the 2001 United States Open away from her, the one who had her game together.
Last night, Venus did not want to be an equal to Serena, who now has four majors to match her sister. She did not want to be No. 2 to Serena anymore, which she will be when the ranking is released tomorrow. It happened anyway.
"Serena played like a No. 1," said Oracene Williams, the mother of Venus and Serena. "Venus, as usual, suffered with her serve and everything else."
That did not mean Venus gave in. Desperate to extend the final, she reached back for a daring second-serve ace to save one match point, and she stretched out her frame for a miracle backhand volley on the next.
But Venus's 10th double fault of the match left her too vulnerable to another match point. On her 33rd unforced error of the night, Venus punched a forehand into the net to send an electric crowd into a sigh before a cheer erupted inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After 1 hour 12 minutes, another sibling showdown had ended. As lopsided as the score was, the effort and points were high quality. Not only have Venus and Serena learned to leave the mental baggage of sisterhood behind when they play, the fans have also evolved in their ability to root for one over the other.
If Serena was down, they called out her name. If Venus was out of sorts, they urged her on. If either delivered a winner, the fans applauded in admiration.
Maybe for some, it is easy to become jaded as a witness to the Williamses' repeated meetings. But if Venus and Serena continue to find each other at the end of majors the way Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi have all these years, there will be a universal appreciation for a rivalry that will never be re-created again.
How could it? Here are two African-American sisters who have wrestled away the tennis establishment with a mix of mind and might that no one has seen before, a scenario as improbable as one set of parents raising Picasso and Monet.
"I don't think of it as amazing," Oracene Williams said. "I'm not human, I guess, because I just don't think of it that way. I think you reap from whatever work you put in. They've both put in a lot of work."
For Serena Williams, the hard labor really began this spring. During the two years after she won the 1999 United States Open, Serena cruised on the glory. At the same time, Venus, the stoic and hooded spectator to Serena's first major for the Williams family, drew inspiration from her younger sister.
After some months of soul-searching, Venus returned to the Tour with her raw edges as polished as brass handles. She took over, winning four majors in 2000 and 2001, while Serena indulged in the fun of stardom.
Then, it was Serena's turn to rededicate herself to tennis. Now the questions arise again: Will Venus vanish again to regroup? Will Serena let the distractions turn her head?
Despite Venus's weary state, her mother expected her to play a full schedule the rest of the season. As for Serena? "Serena likes to win and the $900,000 doesn't hurt, either," said Oracene, referring to the winner's check at the United States Open.
Last year, Venus held the top prize. The 2001 Open was the last major for Venus. A joyous supporter of Serena's as her little sister took the French Open title this spring, Venus's happiness had it limits: Wimbledon in July.
"It's like that image of Serena winning the '99 Open, that look on Venus's face that day," said Mary Carillo, a former player and now a CBS analyst. "She had that hood on her head and this impervious mask as well. That image, I remember it so clearly. I think at Wimbledon this year, it was almost the same kind of look. If not the same look, the same kind of feeling within Venus."
Venus walked onto the court last night with her head high, her jaw clenched tight. Typically, Serena was smiling, drinking in the prematch scene.
It did not take long for them to strike the right mood in the match. Both came out treating each ball like an orange in a juicer, crushing them all.
Serena was more exact, though. With 19 unforced errors to Venus's 33 for the match, Serena had the precision of an archer as Venus struggled to hold her serve. After fighting off eight break points through the first seven games, Venus sliced in a serve her younger sister could wrap her forehand around. She sent a wicked cross-court return into the side pocket of the court to break Venus, taking a 4-3 lead in the first set.
Despite a shaky first-serve percentage of 41 in the first set, Serena came up with the heat when she needed it. On set point, Serena fired an ace at 105 miles an hour, right down the middle.
It was that kind of power on cue that sustained Serena during the match. It showed the kind of command she had over her big sister, the one who used to have all the answers.
"When you walk out there and win Grand Slams," Venus Williams said, "it's not because someone gave it to you."
WE STILL LOVE YOU VEE!!!!!!