Why The Serena-Venus Rivalry Is Still The Stuff Of Dreams
LONDON -- Their thoughts as competitive as their tennis Monday, the Williams sisters did battle for the 26th time in their spirited 17-year rivalry while their minds operated on opposing wavelengths.
"It definitely doesn't get easier," Serena said of playing Venus in one of the most storied series in all of sports, now led by Serena by a 15-11 margin. "But today I was out there thinking 'Wow, I'm 33, she just turned 35 and I don't know how many more moments we'll have.' I just took the moment in: 'We're at Wimbledon.' I remember when we were 8 and we dreamed of these moments."
Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champion, recalled their days back in Compton, California, as well, but even after a rather decisive 6-4, 6-3 victory by Serena in their fourth-round match at Wimbledon, Venus was not ready to conjure up anything even resembling closure.
"At some point, we won't be playing forever, but clearly we're playing at a very high level now," Venus said defiantly. "When that moment is over, it will be over.
"It's not now."
Good for Venus. Good for tennis. And Monday, on a partly cloudy, 70-degree afternoon on Wimbledon's Centre Court, it was good for whoever had the fortune to watch the two swinging freely and ripping groundstrokes like the champions they are.
But as Serena calmly took command of the match and her big sister, it was just as apparent who is most capable of sending shivers through the women's locker room and tremors through the tournament draw.
"The level she's playing at is unprecedented. I can say that with confidence," Venus said, resisting labeling Serena as the greatest of all time until after she retires. "So make what you will of that."
Just watching was all that was necessary as Serena, as relaxed as ever, served with impunity, returned fearlessly and clocked winners against a capable but ultimately outmatched No. 16 seed.
All were certainly notable after Serena struggled against Heather Watson in the third round, particularly with emotions and stakes rising as Serena keeps alive her hopes of winning her 21st major, holding all four Grand Slam titles concurrently, while also pursuing a calendar-year Grand Slam.
"I look forward to tomorrow. I feel like my tournament has finally begun," said Serena, who faces another worthy opponent in Victoria Azarenka in Tuesday's quarterfinals. "This is where I feel really comfortable in a Grand Slam."
Monday's match was actually a perfect one for her in retrospect: a chance to test her nerves in an always-emotional scenario and more important, to test her game against an opponent still capable of playing at a top level.
"She's playing really well and she probably could have played a lot better," she said of Venus. "She's practicing well and she's putting in the time and she's feeling better. So you can start to see that being reflected in her game. And, boy, she has a game to just knock anyone's socks off. So you just have to be ready."
Venus' level of play Monday was evident in flashes -- with a wide hooking serve, the occasional serve and volley, a crisp groundstroke. But even at her best, especially at her best, it was evident just how dominant Serena still is at 33.
"Her serve is consistent. She's taking her opportunities. Minimal errors," Venus said. "It's going to be tough for anyone to defeat her. Maybe she didn't have her best day on the last round [but] she found a way to win against an inspired opponent.
"That's what it takes to win in these championships, even when you're not at the level you want to be at."
The two, as always, have spoken here about how much they admire the other, with questions begging for traits that bug them about the other drawing long pauses and weak examples from both.
"I think if we had a disagreement, we just don't say anything and it moves on," Venus said. "But it's pretty rare. ... I think she definitely uses the whole house, so [there's that]."
"[Her dog] kind of uses me," Serena countered. "Whenever [Venus] comes home, he goes back to her. Kind of gets me excited. ... [But] Venus does nothing wrong. She's like the perfect sister."
The two hesitated to share exactly what was said at net after Monday's match, Venus saying only they were "sisterly words." But the affection was as evident as always, their embrace as touching as Serena's comments afterward.
"I wouldn't be the player I am today if it wasn't for Venus," she said. "Just having an opportunity to watch her win matches, watch her go to the top and me wanting to be there because she was there. Her practicing next to me on the court. That inspiration, her inspiring me. ... I would never be here today in this chair if it wasn't for her."
They have made it clear they don't like meeting in fourth rounds, regardless of the setting, for only a final will end with a sense of joy for both. But they have "tried to be entertaining," Venus said, and certainly the anticipation each meeting brings has accomplished that for all who have watched them.
Beyond that, the five Wimbledon titles for each, the 13 Grand Slam doubles titles together, the sight of the siblings on Centre Court at the game's highest level, is all a bonus.
Venus, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion herself, agreed she never thought as a child that her sister would reach 20. But then, that's not the way either of them operated.
"I don't think we thought about any limits," she said. "When you're a kid, you don't think about limits. You dream.
"That's how it's happening for her now. Dreams are coming true."