GREAT RIVALRIES Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams: Sporting face-offs between the sisters make for a compelling watch, says KUNAL DIWAN
That Grand Slam champions in tennis are made of special stuff is not entirely a special observation. Almost anybody who follows sport with any degree of closeness knows the struggle and effort that are a prerequisite to success in the cutthroat professional tour.
If major winners are such a rare, cherished commodity, what are the odds of two of them being born in the same family, a year apart? Though their success at the highest level is almost taken for granted now, the sisters Williams — Venus and Serena — are possibly the rarest entities to have set foot on a tennis court. Since their respective debuts, in 1994 and 1995, they have won 18 Grand Slams between them, on the way forging a rivalry to match any other in the history of sport.While the Waugh twins, Stephen and Mark, played for the same side, 29-year-old Venus and 28-year-old Serena have often found themselves facing each other across the net. And the results have made for a compelling watch.
Though Venus was off to a flier and led her sister 4-1 overall in 2001, Serena made 2002 entirely her own, racking up four wins against her older sibling. The younger Williams continued in the same vein and had extended her domination over Venus to 7-4 by the end of 2003, a year that marked the final Slam (Australian Open) of their four major finals streak that started at the French Open in 2002.As things stand now, the two have met 23 times with Serena coming out on top 13 times and Venus winning 10 times. They have also faced off in eight Grand Slam title clashes, and here too Serena leads with six wins to Venus’ two.The rivalry assumes completely different dynamics when one takes into account that the two grew up together, hitting balls and battling racism in a Californian ghetto. According to eminent tennis writer Peter Bodo, two champions from the same family in the same generation was such an unlikely occurrence that “it will cease to be possible, perhaps ever again, the moment they set the sticks aside”.
All the goodness in their game, however, has met with a strange response from a section of the media. Insinuations of familial match-fixing appear to do the rounds each time the sisters contest a major final, with the outcome of the match allegedly pre-decided in the Williams’ living room the previous night. Perhaps what brought such doubts to the fore was the 2001 semifinal between the two in Indian Wells which Venus withdrew from. The sisters, though, have been the proud legacy-bearers of Arthur Ashe in inspiring a generation of African-Americans to take up tennis, a situation that former USTA president Jane Brown attributes largely to them.
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