A sister act had become a solo act. Williams in tennis had come to mean Serena. But singular has returned to plural. Venus Williams, a tennis footnote, has returned to the conversation. The older Williams is the slimmer Williams, the taller Williams, the quieter Williams, but she is no longer the forgotten Williams.
Venus Williams last won a grand slam title at Wimbledon 2008 and since then Serena has won 10. Venus has not been in even the quarter-finals of a grand slam since 2010. Then, last night, a calendar flipped back and she returned to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 defeat of Agnieszka Radwanska.
The smile that enveloped her face seemed to speak of her relief and delight. Asked what her inspiration was, Venus reached for family. "Serena," she said with a grin. "She's the ultimate champion".
As Venus battled, I was standing in a corridor next to Rod Laver Arena talking to Martina Hingis. The Swiss, who is playing mixed doubles here, was a triumphant force in 1997 when, among other titles, she won the US Open by beating a player named Venus. Hingis is long retired from singles; Venus, the same age, is, in her own way, unstoppable.
Venus versus Radwanska was a clash not of the ages but merely of ages. Venus is 34, Radwanska 25. Venus is seeded 18th, Radwanska 6th. Venus has played Radwanska thrice in the last three years and lost every time. In every way, it was an upset.
Slender by build, Radwanska is subtle by nature. She cannot power a ball so she must place it. If Dominika Cibulkova compensates for lack of height with abundance of energy, Radwanska makes up for absent muscle with agile brain.
In her first few games against Venus yesterday, Radwanska laid out parts of her repertoire. A forehand pass of angle not pace. A slice from forehand, another from backhand. A drop shot of exquisite slyness, then a volley to finish.
Venus may not have her sister's evident rage but she would not quit or fold. She and Radwanska were not just fighting each other but struggling with themselves. Radwanska, now coached by Martina Navratilova, was trying to find a newer self in a violent tennis world; Venus was just searching for her old self, the player she once knew.
Eventually the artist who stayed too far back bent to the athlete who retrieved brilliantly. Venus won and Radwanska, paid her the sweetest of compliments: "She didn't play like a 34-year-old. (More like) the player who won seven grand slams".
Venus just kept smiling. Asked about the third set, she said: I went into a trance."
Then she paused.
"I just wanted to win."