Sunday 19 November 2017

Centre Court tribute to Williams' sister act

Serena and Venus Williams embrace in front of a standing ovation at Centre Court yesterday
Serena and Venus Williams embrace in front of a standing ovation at Centre Court yesterday

Oliver Brown

Historians might one day struggle to compute the strange culture of revisionism that surrounds the Williams sisters. It used to be that a Venus versus Serena final at Wimbledon was regarded as a joyless affair between two young women who Jonas Bjorkman, now of Andy Murray's camp, once described as "mega-divas". But as the pair embraced tenderly at the net after Serena's comfortable victory in this, their 26th competitive encounter in 17 years, they were accorded a standing ovation.

Time has softened the edges of their once polarising public image. The cumulative weight of Serena's achievements, coupled with Venus' determined recovery from Sjogren's syndrome - a debilitating autoimmune condition - turned this match into an occasion for fond nostalgia rather than glazed resignation at their unanswerable dominance. Perhaps it helped that a last-16 meeting was incongruously early for these leading ladies, whose past three Wimbledon confrontations had all come in the final.

They were lavishly applauded, as if the denizens of Centre Court had merely decided to defer their appreciation for a couple of decades. The pity was that, of all the sister acts involving Venus and Serena, this instalment was curiously bloodless.

When the premature outcome was sealed with a break to love, even the typically ruthless Serena, whose 6-4, 6-3 triumph sustained her campaign for a calendar Grand Slam, looked faintly embarrassed by it all. "She's my best friend in the world," said the 20-time major winner. "It's never easy to play someone you love and care about."

When Venus learned her craft on the rutted courts of Compton, crime-ridden suburb of Los Angeles, father Richard would teach her about how to duck at the first sign of gunfire. It was the one of many salutary lessons her little sister would absorb.

Serena was especially traumatised by the murder of Yetunde Price, her elder half-sister, in a drive-by shooting in 2003, upholding the philosophy ever since of tennis being secondary to her family ties. "No matter how tough your life, family and spirituality should always be No 1 in your life," she said yesterday. "And it is."

In a mere 68 minutes, she doused the romance of a Venus comeback with this brilliantly efficient clinic. Not only did she extend her supremacy in the sisterly head-to-heads to 15-11, but the younger Williams also established an opportunity to seize a sixth Wimbledon title to Venus's five. Any celebrations were mitigated, however, by a wistful acknowledgement that their time was finite. "I thought, 'I'm 33 and she's 35,'" she said. "I don't know how many more moments like this you're going to have'."

"We have played a lot through the years and tried to be entertaining," said Venus. "We won't be playing forever, but clearly we are playing at a very high level now. When that moment is over, it will be over." She stared, pausing for effect. "It isn't now." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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