US Open 2015: Serena Williams withstands valiant Venus in battle of the super-sisters

Serena Williams beats sister Venus in three sets to reach the semi-finals of the US Open in New York

Once upon a time, back in a previous century, the tennis world was just waking up to the remarkable story of two sisters, Venus and Serena Williams.

They were two of five, coached and primed by their parents with patience and intelligence for the demanding world into which they would soon leap.

Venus made her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros just as she turned 17, and three months later would be runner-up at the US Open.

The next year, Serena, the younger by 15 months, would debut in Australia and end the following year, just before her 18th birthday, with the US Open title.

Inevitably, their paths would cross with increasing frequency on the Grand Slam stages, and as their rankings rose, those paths inevitably collided in the semis and finals. Their first meeting at Wimbledon in the 2000 semis would see Venus go on to win her first Major and back it up with the first of back-to-back titles in New York. Their first meeting on Arthur Ashe was in the 2001 final, and their first on Philippe Chatrier was the following year in Paris—Serena’s first Grand Slam victory over Venus.

Come 2002-2003, the super-sisters would contest the title at five out of six consecutive Majors, with Serena winning them all on her way to her first ‘Serena Slam’.

By the end of 2009, they had contested two more Wimbledon finals, sharing the honours, to bring their tally of Grand Slam meetings to 12 out of a total of 24 matches. Serena was ranked No1, Venus No9, but injuries and illness would take such a hold that they would not meet again for three and a half years.

For her part, Serena missed most of 2010 and the first half of 2011 with a knee injury, and then a foot injury followed by a near-fatal pulmonary embolism. Soon after Serena returned, Venus, already with persistent hip problems, succumbed to the debilitating Sjögren’s Syndrome, and by now aged 31, perhaps the end was in sight for one half of the Williams fairytale.

But that would be to underestimate the fortitude and the passion of both sisters. When they renewed their rivalry in 2013, both now well into their 30s, Serena was back to notching up Grand Slam titles and Venus’s ranking was on the up. The match, though, was a one-sided 6-1, 6-2 victory to Serena. Would this be the last Williams hurrah?

Certainly not: Last year, Venus beat her sister in Toronto in a three-set thriller, and they would then renew their Grand Slam rivalry at this year’s Wimbledon.

But what better place for the latest chapter to get under way than where it took off in that first Grand Slam final 14 years ago: under the lights, before an adoring home crowd, and with a semi-final place at stake?

As if their story in New York was not compelling enough, they also faced personal challenges of the highest order. Serena was going for tennis history, attempting to take one step closer to the oh-so-rare Calendar Slam, having already won five Grand Slams in a row. Could Venus find it in herself to halt the ambitions of a beloved sister?

The tension was palpable while the US Open’s favourite daughters waited out a steamy evening as two other quarter-finals went the distance: fellow 30-something Roberta Vinci achieved her own milestone in three long sets and defending men’s champion Marin Cilic resisted a comeback by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga into a fifth high-octane set.

But eventually, the Williams arrived: a pair of women with a combined age of 68, a combined run of US Open appearances of 33, a combined tally of Grand Slam appearances of 129 and Grand Slam titles of 28.

Serena had lost only two matches this year in 54 played, but Venus’s endurance in New York had stunned everyone. She backed up two tough three-set wins with two straightforward, straight-sets wins over a pair of talented teenagers, one of them No12 seed Belinda Bencic who had beaten Serena on her way to the Toronto title.

And 14 years on, neither woman had lost one iota of determination to win.

Each topped out at around 121mph on serve and averaged over 107mph, and each won over 70 percent of first serve points.

Serena made more winners than Venus, 35 to 24, but also made more errors—and both far exceeded winners to errors.

And in the end, they were separated by just one point, and that point and the victory went to Serena, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

It was Serena who raced out of the blocks the faster and stronger, before Venus reeled her in with five straight games in the second. The difference came down to an immediate break in the third set to Serena for 3-0, and she went on to serve out the win with her 12th ace.

Serena, who remains on track for a record-busting title come the weekend, afterwards paid her sister the biggest possible compliment: “I’ve played a lot of great players like Lindsay and Jennifer and Martina and Kim and Justine. I have had a lot of losses against those players, as well. But they didn’t know my game as well as Venus, and just didn’t beat me as many times as Venus has.

“It’s probably the toughest match I’ve played in a really, really, really long time where I wasn’t actually beating myself. I was out there facing an incredibly tough opponent. Seeing she has that level is so inspiring.”

The match ended, of course, with a big embrace at the net, and this time it came without a lingering ‘perhaps’. While both continue to play so well, both still continue to relish the contest and the tennis, and both remain fit and healthy, it is certainly not time to write their fairytale ending.

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