Rogers Cup: Venus Williams beats sister Serena for 1st time in 5 years

Rogers Cup: Venus Williams beats sister Venus for the first time in five years to reach the final in Montreal

It was certainly the best that the Rogers Cup tournament in Montreal could have wished for, that Williams sisters Serena and Venus should set up the 25th meeting in their long and dominant careers in Saturday semi-finals day.

Between them Serena and Venus have 61 and 45 titles respectively, the most among any active women players, and 17 and seven Grand Slams. They hold four Olympic gold medals each, three in doubles and one in singles. Both have held the No1 ranking—though Serena dominates in that field with 200 weeks compared with just 11.

They have played each other more times in Grand Slams than any other opponent, and Venus has played Serena more often than anyone else, full stop.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the sisters—aside, of course, from the fact that siblings should have shared such dominance for so long—is that both have come back from career-threatening health issues.

Serena missed over a year after winning Wimbledon in 2010 with a serious foot injury and a pulmonary embolism. She returned more passionate about her tennis than ever, storming through 2012 with titles in Charleston, Madrid, Wimbledon, Stanford, Olympics gold, the US Open and the WTA Championships. 2013 was even more remarkable, with 11 titles that included the French Open. She became the oldest No1 female, and is still, aged 32, at the top of the pile.

Venus was hit by Sjogren’s Syndrome in 2011—which she still has to manage—and missed seven months to drop outside the top 100, only to return to No24 by the end of 2012. The virus has been one of the biggest challenges of her career, yet she has risen to it, now aged 34, despite and trimmed schedule.

As the sisters prepared to meet for only the second time since 2009, Serena was again finding a run of form. Aside from being on 14-match win streak at the Rogers Cup—she won in 2011 and 2013, missing 2012—she arrived with a tour-leading fourth title in Stanford last week.

But making her debut appearance at Montreal, Venus had beaten Victoria Azarenka in Stanford and played one of the matches of the year against eventual champion Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon.

Here, she was thriving, beating tough opposition in tough matches—and one more than sister Serena who enjoyed a bye in the first round. Venus beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Julia Putintseva, Angelique Kerber and Carla Suarez Navarro, three of them in three sets, but was playing the kind of tennis that summoned memories of her heyday: powerful, angled, clean and destructive.

Both were, naturally, wary of one another after all these years and all of those matches.

Serena said: “I definitely don’t like playing her: I think I’ve lost to her more than anyone else on the tour. So it’s definitely not a fun match for me, to be honest. But she’s tough. She has a great serve. She runs every ball down. She has a great backhand. She hits winners off the forehand. She just does everything well, so it’s not an ideal match-up for anyone, to be honest.

“I definitely feel great when I see her playing so well. Obviously not when it’s time for me to play her, but other than that it’s always really good to see her playing really well!”

And Venus commented: “I have to play well. That’s pretty much it. There’s no secret or science to it. I think anyone who has gotten any wins against her, they’ve pretty much played the match of their life. Hopefully I won’t have to play the match of my life. That’s tough. But I need to play well.”

In the event, she did need to and she did. Venus broke in the first game with some terrific short angled backhands, but saw Serena hit back to break to love for 3-3. The record-breaking Serena then dug to her deepest to fend off three deuces and three break points, finding her 10th ace, to hold for 4-3, and as the two headed to a tie-break, they had still not made 20 errors between them.

But Serena then played a near-flawless tie-break, as Venus twice missed the sideline by barely an inch, and Serena aced her way to a 7-2 set.

The second set began just as the first, with Venus breaking courtesy of a stunning lob onto her sister’s baseline. Both were running their hearts out, eating up the ground, but this time Serena could not get the break back: Indeed she was broken again to lose the set, 6-2.

The third swung in Venus’s favour in the sixth game, as Serena alternated aces and double faults and conceded the break, while Venus, though with the fewer aces, played with more consistency and precision to hold to love. And as the clock ticked to precisely two hours, the elder sister served out her first victory over Serena since 2009.

The quality, as one would expect by these two mighty athletes, was excellent: Both hit more winners than errors, and Serena ended with 19 aces.

Venus agreed:
“The level of game we played was pretty high. We’re both serving well, returning well, moving well: everything is happening so well that all of our matches seem to be very competitive.”

And she went on to talk about the work that has gone into regaining her form:

“I think a lot of it is physical and a lot of it is mental, too. I’ve been working hard. And more importantly, I’ve been feeling better. I hope I can keep some of this control in my life: If I have that control, I can enjoy being on the court, and win as well.”

It takes Venus to her 74th final and she will next week return to the top 20 for the first time in 18 months. But for now, she will be focusing on winning her second title of the year when she takes on either Agnieszka Radwanska or Ekaterina Makarova. Don’t bet against it.

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