Serena vs. Venus Williams: Which Sister Will Retire with the Better Legacy?

Imaan Jalali@imaanjalaliFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2011

It's a question many have wondered about...
It's a question many have wondered about...Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The Williams sisters have faced off 23 times; Serena leads 13-10
The Williams sisters have faced off 23 times; Serena leads 13-10

Neither sister is a stranger to the mass media
Neither sister is a stranger to the mass media

Venus and Serena Williams are two sides of the same coin, two peas in the same pod and two of the most successful female tennis players in history.

They happen to be sisters, as well.

Only one year separates the two superstars, who have taken their sport by storm since the beginning of the last decade.

Both have risen to astronomical heights—winning numerous titles, accolades, procuring endorsement deals and becoming celebrity icons for sports fans all over the world.

The one question that seems to always be brought up in regards to the Williams sisters is, who is better?

Taking it one step further, who will retire with the better legacy, as defined by a cumulative total of accomplishments, appeal and overall image?

First, let's examine Venus Williams' career. The 31-year-old started playing professionally in 1994, but burst onto the scene as a formidable force in late 1999, beginning her ascent by ousting Lindsay Davenport in the 2000 Wimbledon final to win her first Grand Slam (Wikipedia.com).

In the last 12 years, she has been No. 1 three times, holding the designation of the first black woman ever to do so. Her accomplishments are abundant with 21 Grand Slam titles, five of which are from Wimbledon (only one of three women to do so), in addition to three Olympic gold medals, two of which—singles and doubles—were won at the Sydney 2000 Games (WTATennis.com, Wikipedia.com and HistoryofTennis.net).

Serena and Venus are two superstars cut from the same cloth
Serena and Venus are two superstars cut from the same cloth
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Her singles career ledger is 585-143 with 43 titles. In doubles, she has lost only 23 contests to 149 victories and won 19 titles. Currently, she ranks as the 101th "best" player in women's tennis (Wikipedia.com).

According to CelebrityEndorsementAds.com, Venus' endorsements include American Express, Avon, Kraft Foods and a lucrative, 40-million-dollar deal with Reebok.

Standing on the other side of the same spectrum is Serena Williams, Venus' younger sister by one year.

The perfect tennis specimen—the LeBron James of women's tennis—started playing professionally at age 13, but, like her sister, didn't achieve upper-tier success until 1999 when she beat Julie Halard-Decugis in the final of the JP Morgan Chase Open and then overcame No. 1 Martina Hingis in the final of the U.S. Open (Wikipedia.com, WTATennis.com).

In the last decade, Serena has been No. 1 on five separate occasions, won a whopping 27 Grand Slam titles and two Olympic gold medals in doubles (Wikipedia.com).

Her career singles record is 490-103, yielding 39 titles. In doubles, she's lost 20 contests, but won 153 matches to the tune of 20 titles. Currently, she is still holding her own as No. 12 in women's tennis (WTATennis.com, Wikipedia.com).

Serena's array of endorsements, according to CelebrityEndorsementAds.com, include Tampax, Gatorade, Nabisco, Ford, Glam Slam and a 40-million-dollar contract with Nike.

The Greek Goddess of tennis, from a physical standpoint, has earned more prize money—totaling $34,772,829—than any of her female peers, past or present (Wikipedia.com).

Serena may retire with the better legacy, but it's closer than you think
Serena may retire with the better legacy, but it's closer than you think

Her sister Venus is a distant second with $27,750,251 in earnings (Wikipedia.com).

A very important statistic—head-to-head competition—reveals that in their 23 head-to-head matches with each other, Serena has triumphed 13 times to Venus' 10.

Serena ekes out an advantage over her sister Venus in sheer numbers, but what about comparing skill sets on the court?

Most would agree Serena has the better forehand, is more powerful, has more endurance, more well-rounded offense (i.e., slices and lobs), is more consistent with her serves (i.e., aces) and is mentally tougher during clutch situations.

On the other hand, a majority would contend that Venus has the better backhand, has more graceful footwork, is more proficient at net (i.e., traditional volley), has the better initial serve—clocking in at over 130 mph—and has more success on grass.

Once again, the two are the epitome of the photo finish, but quantitative numbers and empirical evidence point to Serena as one who gets stronger with each serve and volley, whereas Venus has a tendency to flounder with each passing set.

Furthermore, what about assessing who, between the Williams sisters, is a better professional and ambassador to tennis in the traditional sense? Who has parlayed their marketability to cultivate a more durable celebrity stronghold in the mainstream media?

Most of the time, a person's celebrity is a direct cause of his or her proficiency in his or her chosen profession. However, in this case, there isn't a clear cause-and-effect relationship between on-court fortune and image/profit.

Venus, the more stoic and well-mannered of the two, is considered to be a "better" champion and a more ideal representative of the sport, whereas Serena, who is more temperamental during games, has nonetheless amassed a greater following and consequently a more robust celebrity image.

The older sister loses and wins with grace, as opposed to the younger one, who is relentlessly driven—to the exclusion of everything else—to win.

One can imagine who is a bigger hit at charity functions.

In the last two years, both sisters have been on nearly identical journeys with similar experiences—many of them harrowing. The two have sustained injuries and were befallen by illnesses—Venus suffered from Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease, and Serena nearly lost her life to a pulmonary embolism (Wikipedia.com).

Today, Serena is on a warpath, persevering en route to retaking her previous status as the No. 1 female tennis pro. She has made notable strides, too, most recently by vanquishing Marion Bartoli to become the Bank of the West champion in July 2011 and making the U.S. Open final in September 2011, losing to Samantha Stosur (WTATennis.com).

Conversely, though Venus got back to the No. 2 spot in May 2010—right behind her superstar sister—she has struggled to relive her past glory with all indications pointing to a career that has already peaked (Wikipedia.com).

Beyond just tennis prosperity, however, the Williams sisters have also ardently pursued and fulfilled their entrepreneurial goals—and now the two are in business together as prosperous part-owners of the Miami Dolphins (Wikipedia.com).

As much as the two have mirrored each other in not just their careers, but lives, the question as to who will retire with the better legacy—which has been pondered by tennis buffs for years—is an exacting one to answer.

Collating all the data, strengths, weaknesses and extracurricular activities suggests the following: Although Venus may be the more personable personality with peers and fans with whom she interacts, Serena's legacy as a more consummate player, phenom and celebrity edges out her sister.

Serena has been a juggernaut in the sport the last eight or nine years, fueled by an unmatched fortitude to win, whereas Venus' best years were in the first few years of the last decade.

Nevertheless, one cannot recall one sister without remembering the other, lending credence to the notion that the Williams sisters' legacies will intertwine with the passage of time—one legacy for both superstar sisters.


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