It is the day when everyone prays for dry weather: the knock-on of a washed out second Monday is simply too awful to contemplate. Even so, this is a tough, if entirely glorious, day when eyes flick from Andy Murray on Centre Court, to French Open champion Stan Wawrinka on Court 1, to US Open champion Marin Cilic on Court 3—all playing at the same time. And then there is the equally stunning women’s line-up.
The 16 comprised four Grand Slam winners, three of them Wimbledon champions, three in the same quarter of the draw, with the other in the same half.
Victoria Azarenka took on the youngest remaining player, Belinda Bencic—seeded 30 and just 18 years old.
At the same time, No4 seed and former champion Maria Sharapova took on the unseeded Zarina Diyas, just as former finalist, the No13 seed Agnieszka Radwanska played the former world No1 Jelena Jankovic, just as another former No1, now No5, Caroline Wozniacki played the fast-rising Spanish star, Garbine Muguruza.
But even that array of women’s matches could not compete with the biggest of them all, the battle between super-sisters Venus and Serena Williams. No surprise, in this their 26th meeting, that they opened the Centre Court schedule.
Not only are they the two oldest women remaining in the draw—Venus 35 and Serena 33—not only have they won more titles between them than the other six remaining women combined, not only do the top the Open era list for Wimbledon matches won—76 and 75 respectively—but they have won five Wimbledon singles titles apiece and another clutch together in doubles.
They arrived at this 26th meeting, the first since last summer, with younger sister Serena ranked No1 by such a margin that she was already a qualifier for the WTA Championships at the end of the year. Venus, who has struggled in recent years with the debilitating Sjögren’s Syndrome, is also a former No1, and since 2011 has worked her way back from outside the top 100.
Serena, owner of 20 Grand Slams, topped her sister in almost all departments and, despite their five Wimbledon titles apiece, topped her here too. Five times before they had met at the All England Club, the first time, in 2000, in the semis and the rest of them in finals, and Serena had won three times.
Their last meeting, too, on the hard courts of Montreal a year ago, went to Venus, in a marathon three-setter. But in truth, Serena was the favourite, not just to win this match but the title, for she already held the other three Grand Slam titles and had lost just one match in 36 played this year.
Wimbledon expected a blockbuster, but the first set was likely to be vital if their past history was anything to go by. In 21 of those previous matches, the woman with opening set went on to win the match, and so it proved this time.
The match lasted only 68 minutes but it was high-octane stuff, as these two women have delivered to their millions of fans since the start of the millennium—and even before: Serena won her first Grand Slam at the US Open in 1999, Venus followed at Wimbledon the next year.
It was Serena who got an early break in the first set, only for Venus to break back for 2-2. But Serena grabbed another break in the fifth game and Venus could do nothing against some imperious serving from her sister: six aces and 15 from 20 points won on her first serve.
It had taken 32 minutes, and now the packed crowd began to get behind Venus, wanting more of this match. But Venus found herself facing 15-40 in the first game of the second set, and although she held, the momentum increasingly moved to the younger sister. Serena held with a 116mph ace, her 24th winner of the match, at 1-1, made four serve winners for 3-3, and pounded a sequence of winning returns for a break chance in the seventh game. Venus double faulted, and that was as good as it.
Two more aces, one at 121mph, and Serena was 5-3. Venus, who looked as though she was now struggling with her serving arm, was broken to love for game, set and match, 6-3.
A long embrace at the net and smiles all round showed just how close these two women are: Many a time Serena has talked of her admiration for the courage of her sister in dealing with the adversity of recent years. She said afterwards: “She’s 35, I’m 33, you don’t know how many more chances we’ll have for a moment like this… It was kind of surreal for a moment then.”
She’s 35, I’m 33, you don’t know how many more chances we’ll have for a moment like this
Venus added afterwards: “We’ve played a lot of years and we’ve tried to be entertaining. At some point we won’t be playing forever, but clearly we’re playing at a very high level now. So when that moment is over, it will be over. It’s not now.”
Tennis fans can only hope that there will be a few rematches yet, but for the moment be grateful for what these two athletes have brought to the tennis table for so long.
In her first quarter-final here since winning the title in 2012 Serena, the oldest left in the draw, could come face-to-face with the youngest, Bencic. However the alternative match-up, Azarenka, is just as intriguing.
She and Williams have, in the last two years, played each other seven times, Azarenka has won twice, and five of those matches have gone to three sets. It’s a tough draw for both women.
Sharapova, meanwhile, cruised into the quarters with a 6-4, 6-4 win and will play the unseeded Coco Vandeweghe, who beat the semi-finalist here last year, Lucie Safarova, 7-6, 7-6.
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