Wimbledon 2015

Sisterly love set aside

Today will be the 26th time Venus and Serena (above) meet in their careers.
Today will be the 26th time Venus and Serena (above) meet in their careers.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Today will be the 26th time Venus (above) and Serena meet in their careers.
Today will be the 26th time Venus (above) and Serena meet in their careers. PHOTO: REUTERS

They praise each other ahead of clash but Venus & Serena are still competitive

LONDON • Serena and Venus Williams will clash at Wimbledon for the first time in six years today, but their ferocious appetite for success suggests it might be premature to bill it as an emotional final fling.

The sisters, who meet in the most anticipated fourth-round tie of the tournament, have reigned supreme for much of the last two decades at Wimbledon, lifting the aptly named Venus Rosewater Dish five times each.

With 27 Grand Slam titles between them, the siblings are established as two of the greatest female players in tennis history.

Taking into account their incredible rise from the bullet-scarred courts of Los Angeles - a fairy tale that led father Richard to dub his children "ghetto Cinderellas" - only increases the magnitude of the sisters' accomplishments.

But, given their array of interests away from tennis, it would be understandable if Serena and Venus, 33 and 35 respectively, were ready to skip the twilight stage of their careers in favour of more glamorous opportunities in the worlds of fashion and film.

However, 17 years after their first match against each other at the Australian Open, the sisters are still as relentlessly competitive as they were when Richard first put a racket in their hands.

After a troubled period three years ago, when a serious foot injury and her lust for the celebrity lifestyle seemed to have taken its toll, Serena has been reinvigorated by French coach Patrick Mouratoglou - winning seven of the last 11 Grand Slams.

A sixth Wimbledon title this year would mean she would hold all four major titles at the same time and would put her on the brink of becoming the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win a calendar Grand Slam.

If she achieves that milestone, the world No. 1 would also be within two titles of Margaret Court's all-time record 24 Grand Slams.

"She's gone through so much that no one could even imagine," Venus said of her younger sister. "She never complained once. You have to give her credit for that."

But, as Serena acknowledges, her glorious run should never overshadow Venus' own epic achievements on and off the court.

While Serena took a while to fulfil her potential, Venus was the trailblazer as she amassed four Grand Slams by the end of 2001.

By the time Venus won her seventh Grand Slam crown, at Wimbledon in 2008, she was entrenched as the game's dominant force and emerging as an influential campaigner for equal prize money for women.

"Where do I start?" asked Serena, when asked to chart Venus' legacy. "She's done so much for this sport."

But in 2011, Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren's Disease, an immune system problem that threatened to end her career. Against the odds, she returned to the upper echelons, reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final since 2010 in Australia this year.

Amid all the glory, the sisters have still been dogged by controversy. Besieged by allegations that results of matches between the pair were "fixed" by Richard, the situation reached an ugly climax at Indian Wells when Venus withdrew with an injury just before her 2001 semi-final against Serena.

Playing the next day in the final against Belgian star Kim Clijsters, Serena was loudly jeered, while Richard claimed he had been racially abused by spectators.

The Williams family refused to return to the tournament for 14 years until earlier this year.

Despite those painful moments, the 26th meeting of the sisters' careers is a chance to toast the extraordinary longevity that suggests the sport's most fascinating family aren't done yet.

"At some point, the star will fade," Serena said. "But I think we are just going to keep playing and playing." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2015, with the headline 'Sisterly love set aside'. Print Edition | Subscribe