LOS ANGELES • Seventeen years after their first match in Indian Wells failed to materialise, Venus and Serena Williams finally faced each other across the net in the desert.
So much has changed since 2001, and not just the outfits and the hairstyles. Now arguably the greatest sibling act in tennis history, Serena, 36, took the court as a new mother while Venus, 37, a new aunt.
On Monday, it was the Williams not making a comeback who emerged the victor, 6-3, 6-4 - her first success over Serena since 2014 and only her second in the last nine years. Venus served big when she needed to, although it was a struggle to close out the tie .
"I just feel it's never over until it's over, and she just came right back," said Venus, who failed in her first attempt to serve out the match at 5-2.
"You know, I'm just lucky I played more matches than her right now."
This was the 29th meeting in a sibling rivalry that Serena still leads 17-12.
'I GOT LUCKY'
You know, I'm just lucky I played more matches than her right now.
VENUS WILLIAMS, victor of the latest battle between the sisters , crediting her fitness for the win.
I haven't played in over a year; it's definitely not less disappointing.
SERENA WILLIAMS, former world No. 1, on losing in her third competitive match since becoming a mother.
In 2001, Venus withdrew minutes before their semi-final, citing an injury. The crowd booed the player and her father Richard, who claimed to have heard racist taunts when they arrived to watch Serena beat Kim Clijsters in the final. This led to their boycott of the tournament for more than a decade.
The last time the sisters faced each other was in January last year, when Serena won the Australian Open, her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. Unbeknown to the general public, she was already two months pregnant.
She skipped the rest of last season, giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia on Sept 1 and marrying Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in November before resuming training.
This was the first singles tournament of her comeback, and she arrived with no official ranking or seeding, resulting in this third-round clash with the eighth-seeded Venus. It was their earliest meeting in a WTA Tour event since their first duel in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open.
Darren Cahill, the ESPN commentator who also coaches world No. 1 Simona Halep, tweeted on Monday that he feels the WTA should allow players returning from maternity leave to have a protected seeding, not just a protected ranking.
But for now, the rule stands and Serena, who will have an official ranking next Monday, will continue to be the most dangerous unseeded player in women's tennis.
"I haven't played in over a year; it's definitely not less disappointing," she said of the defeat.
"I wish it were but then again, I wish it wasn't. Then I wouldn't be who I am. So I just have a long way to go, and I'm looking forward (to) the journey."
Serena, understandably still searching for consistency and timing, was often off balance on Monday, making unforced errors in bunches. She finished with 41, compared to Venus' 19, and failed to serve her best.
"It's a bit of everything that comes in a match that just doesn't normally happen," she said.
Venus moved on to the last 16 and faces Anastasija Sevastova, who defeated 12th-seeded Julia Gorges 6-3, 6-3 on Monday.
In the men's draw, world No. 1 Roger Federer stepped up his bid for a record sixth Indian Wells title with a 6-2, 6-1 demolition of Filip Krajinovic on Monday.
The defending champion next plays Jeremy Chardy while Australian Open semi-finalist Chung Hyeon upset 12th-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-4 to set up a round-of-16 clash with Pablo Cuevas today.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS
ATP/WTA INDIAN WELLS
Men's last 16: StarHub Ch201, tomorrow, 2am Women's q-finals: Ch203, tomorrow, 4am