Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves

[Venus and Serena during their win in the Ladies Doubles Semifinal]

So now that we’ve established that Venus and Serena didn’t cure cancer, it’s time to examine the match they are about to play. It’s time to give credit where it is due.

The first time I saw Venus play I couldn’t wait to see her on the lawns at SW 19, because she obviously had a style that was ideally suited for grass court tennis. She glides around the grass elegantly like a swan, in the great American tradition of exceptional grass court players lead by John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Pete Sampras. They were the finest grass court players of their generation; now Venus is the greatest of hers. 

We will never know why (or if) Venus took a deliberate step back in her career to make way for Serena. At times that certainly seemed to be the case. Although Serena is the one who battles more fiercely on court, no matter how her form is at the time, we can’t underestimate Venus’ drive to win. Who can forget the anguish on Venus’ face when little sister shocked the world by winning the US Open, becoming the first sister to pick up a major? It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But Venus endured another year; and who can forget the overwhelming joy the next year, when Venus finally got hers, that first Wimbledon title? Venus loves Wimbledon more than any other tournament, and brings her A game there no matter what.

On Sunday the Williams sisters will face off for that Wimbledon title. They practice together, eat together, warm up together and often live together. The idea that it is easy or rigged is preposterous at this point. These two women want to win. If they consistently trained and practiced like top players they very likely would have played each other in major finals again and again. That they find the proposition too painful makes perfect sense to me. On the one hand it’s a win-win, since the title stays in the family. But these sisters are best friends. Niether wants to see the other experience the devastation of losing a final. If I’m playing armchair psychologist, then I think Venus’ poor performances against Serena come from an unconscious desire to protect little sis, the thinking being that she can handle the loss with more stoicism than Serena, who wears her heart on her sleeve.Do I think Venus will win? I’m not sure. All signs point to Serena. She hasn’t won at Wimbledon in five years. She’s hungry. She never tires of beating big sis. She is serving better than I have ever seen her. Most importantly, she’s 5-1 against Venus in finals.

They’ve never played an exceptional match against each other as professionals. I feel like this could be the one because they are playing so well. They’re old enough to know you don’t get many chances in tennis, they dwindle with age.

By the way...

They're different you know. The non-tennis media tends to write about the sisters as if they are interchangeable. Now that they've been around for ten years, here's a handy guide for stupid sportscasters and their progeny:
  • Venus is ice; Serena is fire.
  • Venus is tall and lanky; Serena has a low center of gravity.
  • Venus is an intorvert; Serena an extrovert.
  • Venus is studied and intellectual, more prone to spend her time away from tennis studying; Serena is flighty and emotional, wowed by fame, runs around with high profile beaus and Hollywood.
  • Venus is Pete Sampras; Serena is Andre Agassi.

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