That the 28th chapter of the Williams sisters’ rivalry should head Down Under was quite apropos to the occasion of the siblings having a renewed start to their respective careers in the new season. For, way back in 1998, it was at the same venue that the two sisters – then teenaged and sporting the fad of beaded cornrows on their hair – took on each other for the first time in the second round in which the 17-year-old Venus prevailed over the 16-year-old Serena in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1.
Nineteen years later, the (now) 35-year-old Serena returned the favour back, with a straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, win propelling her to further heights of tennis’ greatness even as she and her sister gave the tennis world yet another description of what has made their rivalry so special.
Wading through strenuous times
Much as it was discernible enough in their game, it was also equally perceivable in their comportment in the entirety of the 82-minute long matchup that had its highs and lows, including a smashed racquet from Serena, mid-point in the fourth game of the first set that saw two back-to-back breaks of serve.
Serena’s impassive visage only got grimmer as she tried to get past this initial hiccup, while on the other side of the net, the 36-year-old Venus’ composure remained steady all-throughout as if she were trying to will the match to turnaround to her advantage in an antithesis to her sister’s severe countenance. However, in spite of the pressure mounting – and visibly showing – both players looked to be maintaining a certain reserve around them. Fittingly, it was Serena who brought out this aspect in the entirety of the match.
A popular anecdote started doing the rounds during the match about how the sisters’ father, Richard, when complimented about Venus’ success in the 90s, replied that she had a sister who was just as good – if not better – and much meaner when it came to getting results.
In all her years on the tennis circuit, Serena has more than once displayed her meanness on the court, even preferring her aggressiveness to command over the match and her opponent. On Saturday, while Serena did perk herself up with ferocious fist-pumps and vehement self-encouraging words, her combativeness didn’t crossover to her staring down her opponent or getting in her face as she is prone to against her other rivals. In that she seemed to be channelizing her mulishness through herself like she were playing with the awareness of the dual enormity of the task at hand in having to play her sister to get to the long-awaited 23rd Grand Slam.
Forever sisters before, and after, rivals
And, if playing against each other had made them put up barriers to seclude themselves, those same fences came down the moment the match ended, with both sisters hugging each other tightly and grinning ear-to-ear in an acknowledgement of what the other’s achievement had come to be, rather than fixating on what each had accomplished.
In the course of their lengthy careers, the Williamses have never made a secret of how they draw in positive influence from each other’s successes, both on and off the court. This attribute of theirs has then come to be a unique bond that has kept them connected with their tennis roots and to how they had embarked on their professional journey in which they matured separately, yet have remained closely intertwined.
It wasn’t thus surprising to see them do the same in their respective post-match celebratory speeches, beginning with Venus, who stepped first on the dias. “Serena Williams, that’s my little sister guys” the two-time Australian Open finalist with an extended pause, before continuing, “(Serena), your win has always been my win and I think you know that. All the times, I couldn’t be there, wouldn’t be there and didn’t get there, you were there. I am enormously proud of you. You mean the world to me.”
‘Thank you, Venus, for inspiring me’
For Serena who has, since her win, redrawn the boundaries of expectations completely, it was all about looking up to her elder sister, whom she referred to as an amazing person at the start of her address. “There’s no way I would be anything without (Venus). She is my inspiration. The only reason why I am standing here today, the only reason that the Williams sisters exist. So, thank you Venus for inspiring me to be the best player that I could be and inspire me to work hard every time you won this week, I felt like I had to win too. So, thank you very much.”
Said matter-of-factly as these words were, without any ostentatiousness or affectation, they however had a slight inflection of how time had spun away from them. In redirecting their words towards their present – and future – the sisters then made for a strong statement not only defying the nine years of wait to seeing them face off against each other in the Grand Slam finals, but also hinting at a few more potential meetings from across each other.
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