'Win-win situation' as Williams sisters face off in final
Can there be a more extraordinary story in all of sport than Venus and Serena Williams?
The two Compton sisters both won their semi-finals in Melbourne yesterday, continuing a dynasty that has lasted the best part of 20 years.
History will repeat itself on Sunday night when Venus and Serena meet in the Australian Open final. And this is ancient history, in tennis terms - the last time they played for the trophy here was in 2003.
In the intervening years, it feels like few women have been able to lay a hand on them. On the evidence of the past fortnight, even Father Time has given up the fight.
Yesterday, Serena, 35, had the easier of the semi-finals on Rod Laver Arena. She faced Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, another inspirational old-stager.
Lucic-Baroni had been a prodigy, reaching the Wimbledon semi-final in 1999 as a 17-year-old, but was then forced to flee her home in Croatia because of her violent and abusive father. Having disappeared from the Tour for three years in the mid-Noughties, she has now returned to claim her highest WTA ranking (No 29), at the age of 34.
Lucic-Baroni is clearly a great survivor, but the stress of playing 10 matches (singles and doubles) in 11 days took its toll. Serena was in unforgiving form as she eased through 6-2, 6-1 in just 50 minutes.
Venus, 36, had to scrap much harder as she took on the muscular hitting of Coco Vandeweghe, who swung like Joe DiMaggio, stealing the first set on a tie-break before Venus brought her experience to bear.
A tactical adjustment on second serve, which she started striking with a little more pace, helped Venus save 12 of the 13 break points she faced.
She celebrated by performing a dainty little dance.
Serena was unusually relaxed after the match, saying: "I just can't help but feel like it's a win-win situation for me."
Either she will collect her 23rd major title, to move into the clear space between Steffi Graf (22) and Margaret Court (24). Or Venus will earn the reward that her determination deserves. Apart from being one of the oldest players on tour, she also suffers from Sjogren's Syndrome, an incurable auto-immune disease.
"I've been there when she was down and out of it," said Serena. "We lived together. I know what she went through with her illness. This probably is the moment of our careers so far. I never lost hope of us being able to play each other in a final."
Williams-Williams finals were a regular feature of the noughties, but have not been seen at any level since 2009.
In the old days, the sisters always had to bat away claims that the result was arranged over breakfast. Yet the one-sidedness of the series hardly suggests collusion. In eight major finals, Serena has won six to Venus's two. She is favourite again here, having won all 12 sets she has played to date, and dispatched Konta - the only top-10 player that either sister has faced - in comprehensive style.
Not that Venus is ready to cede the foreground just yet.
"When I'm playing her, I think I'm playing the best competitor in the game," Venus said. "But I don't think I'm chump change either. You have to control yourself, then you also have to put your opponent in a box. This opponent is your sister, and she's super-awesome. It's wonderful." (© Daily Telegraph, London)