The latest meeting of the most successful siblings in sports history had fans at the U.S. Open yearning for something special Friday night.
They got it from one side of the net.
In a commanding performance, Serena Williams sent notice in a 6-1, 6-2 rout of her big sister Venus at Arthur Ashe Stadium that her “A” game remains the most imposing sight in women’s tennis.
“Absolutely, this was my best match since I came back,” said Serena, who returned to competitive tennis at Indian Wells in March, six months after giving birth.
Serena and Venus Williams meet at center court after Serena’s victory.
Serena and Venus Williams meet at center court after Serena’s victory. (Andrew Schwartz / For New York Daily News)
She lost in that tournament to Venus in straight sets. The result could not have been more different in their third-round match at the Open.
Serena took an 18-12 lead in the Sister Act, including nine wins in the past 11.
“She played so well, I barely got to touch any balls,” said Venus, a two-time Open champion. “After every shot I hit well, she hit a better shot.”
Venus, 38, looked severely overmatched, which at times seemed to pain Serena.
“She’s the only reason I’m still here,” said Serena, who turns 37 on Sept. 26. “After God, I owe everything to her.”
Serena will next face unseeded Kaia Kanepi, who upset World No. 1 Simona Halep in the first round. If Serena plays with the same focus, power and precision she displayed against Venus, a record seventh Open title appears likely.
Once Serena survived a mild scare in the second game of the match, the night was hers. She called for a trainer during the first changeover because she rolled her right ankle while pursuing a shot. Immediately after the ankle was re-taped, Serena broke serve for a 3-1 lead.
A forehand pass in the sixth game produced another service break for Serena, who then put an exclamation point on the first set with an ace.
With the stadium roof closed, Serena had optimal conditions to unleash her power game. She kept the pressure on with a third consecutive service break to start the second set. Since Venus rarely troubled Serena’s serve, the match essentially ended after Serena broke Venus at love for a 4-1 lead.
The official end came on a forehand winner into the open court after a punishing first serve. When Serena and Venus hugged at the net, the crowd rose to its feet seemingly in appreciation of what the sisters represent, athletically and culturally.
Here’s a testament to their longevity in a physically demanding sport: Frances Tiafoe, a promising African-American on the men’s tour, was born Jan. 20, 1998—the day before Venus beat Serena in straight sets in their first-ever meeting as pros, the second round of the Australian Open.
“It almost doesn’t matter who wins—just them being on the court together for the 30th time is unbelievable,” Tiafoe said. “If I could be half the athlete they are and have half the career they’ve had, that would be insane.”
Almost as insanely amazing as the story of two African-American sisters from humble beginnings who became global superstars while revolutionizing a sport whose grandest tournaments were once closed to members of their race.
When Venus and Serena became dominant at the dawn of the 21st century, they sent an unmistakable message to their rivals: Get stronger and fitter, or get out of the way. Thanks to the sisters, women’s tennis is more athletic and harder-hitting than ever.
While racking up major titles—23 for Serena (one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time record) and seven for Venus—they inspired a wave of female players of color, including last year’s Open finalists Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, and then a second wave led by top-ranked juniors Cori Gauff, 14, and Whitney Osuigwe, 16.
The sisters last met in a major at the 2017 Australian Open. Serena was World No. 1 and pregnant when she defeated Venus in the final. (Serena’s daughter, Alexis Olympia, will be one year old on Saturday.)
So why did Venus, the No. 16 seed, and Serena, seeded 17th, meet so early at this year’s Open?
The USTA seeded Serena above her No. 26 world ranking. In the blind draw that determines who plays whom, the sisters ended up in the same quarter of the 128-player field.
An unfortunate draw for Venus who, for the first time since 2014, played in all four Grand Slam events without getting past the third round in any. On this night, she again came in second to a sibling who is the best her sport has ever seen.