Remember the good old days of women’s tennis when Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova battled for championships at each and every major event?
Their rivalry built and sustained women’s tennis for almost 20 years. They owned distinctively different styles of play and on court mannerisms and off court proclivities that set them apart from one another. Divided on their styles of play and their deportment, their fans remained drawn to them.
After the Evert-Navratilova rivalry simmered and cooled, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles seemed destined for a rivalry equalling that of the dynamic duo of the late 70s and 80s. Alas! The Steffi-Monica major combats on court died once Seles was stabbed on court in Germany.
The teenager was never the same after returning to play the game. Still Seles remained a fixture in tennis, competing, but not winning majors anymore. Graf, however, continued on to dominate the game without a major rival in her pathway.
The next big rivalry in women’s tennis looming on the horizon was that between Venus Williams and her younger sister Serena who arrived on the scene in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, the public never really accepted their contests as a true tests because the siblings never appeared to be rivals.
Rather, they seemed to be what they were—sisters, which is often a complex relationship.
I have a sister. I know what it is to compete with a sister. You fight over everything from clothes and boyfriends to your parents affection. My sister and I are as close in age as Venus and Serena which only serves to increase the tension because you may share the same friends in same social circle and attend the same school with its teachers, administrators, and extra curricular activities.
That just gives you more reasons to compete and more opportunities to engage in outrageous behavior.
But the thing is—as a sister—it is all right if you beat up on each other and call each other names. But, no outsider has the right to do it. I can try to outdo my sister—but don’t you do it! It is, as I said before, complex. That plus the fact that deep inside, you do care about and care for your sister even though you would never admit it.
When Venus and Serena met in the finals at majors, one thing became apparent. Venus seemed to have the softer heart, which is true of older sisters—I am one, after all. We are always sent to look after the younger one.
While Serena had the mindset of a champion. Venus almost did. She seemed to stumble most often when it came to her sister, consciously or subconsciously.
The sisters have met each other on court 23 times with Venus winning 10 times, Serena 13. The very first time they met was in 1998 at the Australian Open when Venus defeated her sister in the round of 64, 7-6, 6-1.
In major finals they have met eight times with Serena winning six times and Venus twice. Venus defeated Serena in the finals of the 2001 U.S. Open 6-2, 6-4 and again at Wimbledon in 2008, 7-5, 6-4. Serena has defeated Venus during three Wimbledon finals, plus one each at the French, Australian and U.S. Opens.
There is no doubt but that the two sisters have dominated women’s tennis during the first decade of the 21st century.
But when they met, the victories seemed uneasy, especially for the elder sister.
Venus always seemed to overcompensate for defeating her sister in the early days, running around, taking pictures as if apologizing for defeating Serena or going over the top if her sister won. Later on, it seemed that Venus came to accept whatever happened with more aplomb but you knew that deep inside, she still had the softer heart.
Now with Venus age 30 and Serena soon to be 29, you have to imagine that their best days of competition on the tennis courts will soon be behind them.
This year as Venus heads to New York to compete in her eleventh U.S. Open—starting when she was 17 years of age—she is the No. 3 seed and one of the favorites. Her older sister, Serena, the world No. 1 player, has withdrawn not fully recovered from surgery for an injury she suffered by cutting her foot on broken glass.
But Venus has not played on tour since the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, suffering from a left kneecap injury that kept her out of action for the past eight weeks. Even though Venus is a two-time champion of this event, it has been almost a decade since she last triumphed on these courts.
In her quarter of the draw she may face some real obstacles early on in the form of Flavia Penneta and Shahar Peer plus potentially Victoria Azarenka or Francesca Schiavone later in the quarterfinals.
Even though Venus tells us she is ready to participate fully, without adequate match play to bolster her game and her confidence, it is hard to imagine that Venus will survive past the quarterfinals without a great deal of luck and some re-inspired and brilliant play.
Not that the elder Williams is not capable of it. Venus and Serena Williams are the most naturally talented women playing tennis today. It explains their dominance over the past decade. They have persevered, winning major battles while conquering other battlefields at the same time.
There is not another seeded American woman in the draw and the hopes of the United States remained pinned to Venus’ tennis skirt, if indeed, she wears one this year—skirt, that is. As much as the American audience would love to see Venus win another one since her last one in 2001, it will be a difficult, almost impossible task for the eldest Williams sister.
As Venus and Serena Williams begin to fade as tennis champions, there is always another one on the horizon—another champion in for the long run. She, hopefully will usher in another new rivalry to propel women’s tennis back to the summit, back to the days when Evert and Navratilova’s battles compelled the world to watch.