Win It All - 'Lil Sis
It's Time for Serena to Grow Up
It's Time for Serena to Grow Up
By CHARLES BRICKER, FORT LAUDERDALE SUN SENTINEL
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- This is the day. This is the place. This is the time for Serena Williams to stop being the little sister and start being the younger sister.
You do understand the distinction, don't you?
I really don't care which sister wins this afternoon, as long as Serena does not betray her considerable talent with another emotional meltdown. I want to see her come out swinging as she has throughout the first eight days of the Nasdaq-100 Open. I want to see her rally back hard if she loses a set. I don't want to see her spraying balls into Biscayne Bay down the stretch, when Venus is mentally at her strongest.
This seventh meeting of the Williams sisters is purely about tennis ... finally. The carnival atmosphere of the final here in 1999 is a distant memory. Those unsubstantiated stories in the National Enquirer about the fix being in are dead and buried.
We will this afternoon, unfortunately, still have father Richard holding up signs in the stands because he thinks this match is more about him than his daughters. But the sisters can't control that.
Their job is to compete and I think--I hope--that they are ready to do that now against each other until the final point.
It's not easy to play your brother or sister with so much at stake in such a public way, and especially with siblings this close. During their practices, Richard steadfastly refused to let Venus and Serena play sets against each other.
That kept them very close, but it also appears to have poorly prepared Serena for the inevitability of playing her sister with titles and prestige on the line.
I sense, just watching her this year, that she finally has overcome that. We'll find out today if she has learned to play the ball, as they say in this sport, and not the opponent--even when it's your sister.
Sometimes you overcome that by being beaten down enough times. You find out that the will to win is stronger than some misconceived sense that you're not worthy enough to beat big sister.
The bond between these women is too strong to be broken by a Serena victory.
Though Venus is the more accomplished player, the talent difference between them is not so great that it doesn't allow for a Serena victory.
Venus has the greater understanding of the game and of how to construct points. Venus hits the ball cleaner and with more consistent power.
But Serena is the more aggressive and when she's on, as she was against Martina Hingis on Wednesday in the quarterfinals, she looks unbeatable.
Yet there has also been Serena's fragile personality against Venus. In the 1999 Lipton final, she was right there in the third set when she inexplicably committed a boatload of unforced errors.
Serena came into their 2000 Wimbledon semifinal having lost only 15 games in five matches. She looked intimidated by Venus and went down, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
There was an important book published this week, an insider's look at life in the Williams compound by Dave Rineberg, who was a hitting partner for Venus and Serena from 1992-99.
For seven years, Rineberg said Wednesday, he saw Serena's adoration of Venus.
"Any time Serena would get injured on court or get hurt, she would look to Venus for comfort. Venus would put her arm around her.
"I saw that all the time. Just going into hotels, Serena would follow Venus in, watch how she handled herself, what she did."
It's a fascinating character contradiction that Serena, by far the more muscular and imposing of the sisters, is not as emotionally strong as Venus.
"Serena always went out of her way to act tougher than she was," Rineberg said. "But the truth is that she was a softie. She was the puppy dog lover."
Rineberg is not picking Serena to win this match, even if she has found the strength to triumph over her sister. "Venus to win. I've got no hesitation in saying that," Rineberg said.
"I love the way Venus controls the court. She hits a ball that is more penetrating. Serena has weapons, but I still think that older sister thing is going to work."
Even one match point for Serena would send up a flare that a new day is here.
It wouldn't just be good for Serena to take command of her emotions today. It would be awfully good for tennis too.