Williams sisters each have formidable belief they will win

Updated: July 3, 2008

Sibling showdown

WIMBLEDON, England -- If you take a listen to Venus and Serena Williams they project that everything between them is always lovey-dovey and there's no time available for sibling rivalry. News conference after news conference, the sisters extol their closeness, painting themselves as if they're joined at the hip.

Sure, many siblings have a loving familial bond. But no sibling rivalry at all? That's just seems against nature.

That's the point when you take a real, hard look at the comments of the spirited Serena and find a subliminal message to be deciphered -- Serena is the sister with the truly emulous personality.

Proof of the pudding: A question to Serena after they both reached the semifinals and seemed headed towards the anticipated all-Williams final clash.

Question: "Do you see your sister as the favorite for this tournament now?"

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Serena Williams leads sister Venus 8-7 in their 15 career head-to-head meetings.

Answer: "I would never sit here and say she's the favorite when I'm still in the draw. What are you on?"

Even in jest, Serena displays a defiant attitude, jokingly suggesting that she knows how to orchestrate a victory over Venus -- subversion.

"I'm going to sabotage her and eat all the breakfast," said Serena, chuckling. "I'll eat all the Wheaties so she doesn't have any chance, if we get that far."

Whether it's family lore or not, Serena relishes being the spoiled baby of the family; the sister who eats, sleeps and lives life as if it was a grand competition.

"I think we're all great competitors, but Serena really hates to lose so she's always willing to leave it all out there," said older sister, Isha Price, an attorney who lives in Washington D.C., but has been spending much of this year traveling on the tour.

Whether Serena is on top of her game or looking as if she's on vacation, as she did in her horrific third-round French Open defeat to Katarina Srebotnik recently, she never falters from exhibiting a formidable self-belief.

That strength of character has distinguished Serena's appointed position within the family.

"Serena's always fulfilled the role of the one who has to be nurtured because she's the baby," said Price, after her sisters reached their seventh Grand Slam final against each other on Thursday. "But she's the always the one you can call if you ever need to tell anybody anything. She's the listening ear."

For Venus, looking to defend her title for a seventh career Grand Slam trophy, which would leave her only one major title behind Serena, the years have finally left her feeling less responsible for guiding her younger sister through the land mines of life.

"I think she's definitely matured in a lot of ways," Venus said. "I don't really worry about her that much. I respect the decisions that she's gonna make. I don't worry that she's gonna make a decision that I'm going to try to be trying to get her not to make.

"On the court, she's always Serena Williams. She's tenacious. … You can't bet against her."

Price believes Serena's biggest metamorphosis since playing Venus in the 2003 Wimbledon final is her effort to keep her emotions more in check.

"I honestly see Serena trying to calm down and not be as rash a little bit," Price said. "She's a lot more gregarious and a lot more outgoing than Venus is, but she's doing her best to remain calm and think to herself a bit. Serena's made some great strides in maturity on the court."

The difficulty of sitting courtside for the final is something that the family patriarch, Richard, and his girlfriend will not endure -- he plans to head home to the U.S. on Friday. Mom, Oracene Price, was torn about wanting to be there, but plans to take a seat at Centre Court. Isha will also be in attendance and said their other sister, Lyndrea, is en route from California.

And Serena will be on the court, the player showing more of the emotions. Because that's who she is in this family.

Sandra Harwitt is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

Five things we learned on Thursday

1. Saving six straight set points is a breeze: Flash back to the first round of the 1994 U.S. Open. Richard Krajicek faced fellow Dutchman Jan Siemerink in a fourth-set tiebreak and led 6-0, prompting a commentating John McEnroe to say he'd stand on his head at a later date if Siemerink saved the six set -- and match -- points in a row. It happened, and Siemerink eventually claimed the 'breaker, 10-8 (though Krajicek won the fifth).

Something similar happened to Frenchman Arnaud Clement today in his quarterfinal loss to German Rainer Schuettler in five sets and 5 hours, 12 minutes, tied for the second-longest men's singles match at Wimbledon.

Clement trailed Schuettler 6-0 in a third-set tiebreak, only to make it 6-6.

Sadly for him, that's where it ended. Clement double faulted and Schuettler hit an ace to take a two-sets-to-one lead.

"I didn't spend an hour and a quarter on court in the set to suddenly give up,'' Clement said, explaining his mindset at 6-0 down. "What was unfortunate was that double fault.''

Clement rallied from a break down to take the fourth only to squander a match point at 5-4 on his opponent's serve in the fifth, Schuettler rifling a forehand in the corner.

2. Venus doesn't do fist pumps: Watching Venus Williams play, you never know if she's winning or losing. There are no fist pumps, tosses of the racket or line-call queries.

It's after a match when the emotion comes -- like Thursday.

Williams unleashed a big smile as she waited at the net to shake Elena Dementieva's hand following their semifinal and was soon giddy with excitement, jumping up and down. She explained her philosophy soon after.

"I'm really contained,'' she said. "I don't fist pump a lot because I expect to win the point. There's definitely some points where you need that point and it's just exhilarating. For me, that's when the pump comes. But if I'm feeling up or down, no one can tell.''

Later discussing how little sister Serena Williams, her opponent in Saturday's final, has changed in the past few years, Venus Williams called herself a "nerd.''

"[Serena] wasn't exactly that way, so I think we both now know our roles in the relationship, and we support each other,'' she said.

3. Wimbledon supersedes holidays: Rainer Schuettler, 32, admitted he had to change plans when he reached the fourth round at the All England Club, pulling out of a Challenger this week in Cordoba, Spain. He won't get a chance to go on vacation, either, prior to next week's clay-court Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, an event in which he's entered.

"I said I'd go for a few days in the mountains in Switzerland, spend some time there, just get away from everything because I'm playing in Stuttgart,'' Schuettler said. "But yeah, I'm still here, so it feels good.''

Schuettler's match ended at 6.39 p.m. local time, two rain delays hindering matters. He was hoping to get to bed before midnight in preparation for Friday's semifinal against world No. 2 Rafael Nadal.

Schuettler, ranked 94th, trails Nadal 3-1 in their head-to-head series, winning the opener indoors in Switzerland four years ago. No one is giving him much of a chance.

"I'll just go out there, have fun, try to make it as hard for him as possible and then, who knows?'' Schuettler said. "I mean, today I was out of the tournament already, then I won it. Who knows what's going to happen Friday?''

4. Serena can slam it down: There wasn't much to separate Zheng Jie and Serena Williams in the second set of their semifinal Thursday, Williams edging the diminutive Chinese wild card in a tiebreak to advance, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).

Williams got by in the tiebreak thanks largely to her serve, delivering three aces and a few unreturnables. Overall, she clubbed 14 aces and won 87 percent of points behind the first serve.

Zheng produced more baseline winners than Williams, nine to eight.

"Her serve was simply too big,'' said Zheng, the first Chinese woman to reach the semis at Wimbledon.

With an estimated 100 million people in China tuning in to her quarterfinal victory over Nicole Vaidisova on Tuesday, Zheng turned into a star.

She's already looking forward to August's Olympics in Beijing.

"I will use this experience from Wimbledon to have a better expectation in the Olympics, to have better achievement,'' Zheng said.

5. The upsets didn't help Serena: Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova exited earlier than expected at Wimbledon, which many would say was a blessing to Serena Williams, in their half of the draw.

She says maybe not.

"It might have even made it tougher,'' Williams said. "When a top player goes out, the lower-ranked players are like, 'I can take a top player out, too.' It's like it just keeps going on and on.''

Former champion Maria Sharapova and second-ranked Jelena Jankovic lost prior to the quarterfinals in the other half.

-- Ravi Ubha



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Marathon match


After more than a week of stellar weather, the climate has changed at the All England Club. Thursday brought the second straight day of rain delays, but there was an upside.

The second delay left three cliff-hangers pending as the players scurried for cover:

• The Bryan Brothers were staring at match point against them in the fourth set of their men's doubles semifinal match against Jonas Bjorkman and Kevin Ullyett.

• Rainer Schuettler and Arnaud Clement, continuing a quarterfinal match that was stopped after two sets because of darkness Wednesday, were in the fifth set, tied at 6-all and 40-all.

• Serena Williams was leading Zheng Jie 6-2, 5-5 in their women's semifinal match with Zheng serving at 40-30.

"It wasn't Wimbledon for the first 10 days," said Clement, who actually held a match point. "We didn't have a rain delay, so we had two today. You know, it's a little bit special when it's 6-all, 40-all."

Schuettler completed his match first, when Clement's backhand service return skittered wide. The German prevailed 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7), 8-6. The two-day affair lasted 5 hours and 12 minutes.

"It's one of my matches I will always remember," said Schuettler, saying he was "so far away" from his Nadal match. "I growed up watching Boris [Becker] win Wimbledon, so now I'm in the semis.

"I am more than happy."

And then, 12 minutes later, at 6:39 local time, the other two matches ended at almost exactly the same time. Serena won a second-set tiebreaker, 7-5, when Zheng double-faulted and the Bryans fell 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (11-9).

Maybe serving statistics are overrated. The Bryans went through their entire tournament without losing serve -- a streak of 85 games -- but still lost.

-- Greg Garber

The Next Big (British) Thing?


While the British media bewailed the loss of their beloved Andy Murray -- both the Times and the Daily Telegraph used "Out-muscled" in their tabloid headlines -- there might be a new star on the horizon.

Fourteen-year-old Laura Robson swept into the semifinals of the girls' junior tournament with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 9 seed Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia. She will next face Slovakia's Romana Tabakova.

Robson, who was granted a wild card into the event, is a true prospect.

She was born in Melbourne, Australia, moved to Singapore at the age of 18 months and, after a four-year stay, settled in Wimbledon.

"I'm just doing what I'm doing and people are talking," she said. "But it's nice to be getting compliments -- that means I'm doing well."

Robson is the highest-ranked 14-year-old in the world and the No. 2 junior in Great Britain. She has been compared (favorably) to a young Justine Henin.

-- Greg Garber

Critics' choice


Roger Federer vs. Marat Safin: You might remember the 2005 Australian Open, when Safin prevailed 9-7 in the last of five sets on his way to the second career Grand Slam title. On the other hand, Federer has lost to only one player outside the top five in a Grand Slam since he's been No. 1 (No. 30 Gustavo Kuerten in the 2004 French Open). This time, Safin is out of gas.

ESPN.com prediction: Federer in four.

Rafael Nadal versus Rainer Schuettler: Schuettler played a crazy 5-hour match, defeating Arnaud Clement in five sets, which must have delighted Rafa. Under ordinary circumstances, it would be tough sledding for a veteran like Schuettler, but factoring fatigue into the equation, this is a severe blowout.

ESPN.com prediction: Nadal in three.

-- Greg Garber