— WIMBLEDON, England - Logic says take Venus Williams over her sister Serena in the Wimbledon final. Venus is the defending champion at the All-England Club, and a five-time Wimbledon winner. No one is more at home on the lawns of London. But I’m going against logic. Serena was my pre-tournament pick for the title, and I’m sticking with her.
This is the eighth Grand Slam event final pairing the sisters, with Serena holding a 5-2 advantage. As far as Wimbledon, Serena beat Venus for the title here in 2002 and 2003 while Venus prevailed over her younger sister in last year’s championship tilt.
In fairness it must be mentioned that Venus played the 2003 grass court final with an abdominal strain that limited her movement, and had her in pain, and in 2002 Serena revealed after their match that Venus’ right shoulder was giving her discomfort, perhaps a factor in her less-than-overpowering display on her serve (Venus only topped 105 mph a handful of times).
The latest all-Williams final came about when Serena won a hard-fought semifinal clash over Elena Dementieva 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6 while Venus battered World No. 1 Dinara Safina, 6-1, 6-0.
Serena is an incredible competitor, and that’s not to take anything away from Venus, whose competitiveness must be greatly admired as well. Knowing Serena, it’s my feeling she is really bothered by losing last year’s title match at the All-England Club to her older sister, 7-5, 6-4. This after Serena had gotten off to a 4-2 lead in the first set. Prior to that defeat, Serena had been on a 5-0 run in Grand Slam event finals between the sisters, dating back to the 2002 French Open.
Losing to Venus at this major last year left Serena distraught, but it also had a positive effect on her. It led her back to the practice court, and got her very motivated to win the U.S. Open last summer and the Australian Open earlier this year.
Serena’s got incredible mental toughness. Her coming back from a match point down against Dementieva was the ninth time she has done that in her career, and the third time in a major. And her ability to rise to the occasion on big points is one of the defining elements of her game. She just can’t stand to lose.
Given Venus’ quick destruction of Safina (51 minutes), and Serena’s lengthy duel with Dementieva (2 hours, 49 minutes), Venus should be fresher for the final. Serena’s duel with Dementieva was pretty physical, with a lot of hard hitting, and a lot of movement.
While fatigue could be a concern of Serena’s, the crucial question surrounding Venus is has she had a tough enough test before the final? She hasn’t been pushed at all, and that could come back to bite her.
Strategy-wise nothing should be different from their previous encounters. Both players rely heavily on their serves and return of serves, so execution will be key. Venus’ serve may get bigger in terms of miles per hour, but Serena is more consistent on both her first and second serves. Venus is a little better at the net. Both sisters will come to the net on occasion, but there won’t be a lot of serve and volleying. This will be a battle from the baseline.
In the end, the title match is going to be decided by several key factors: 1) which sister is serving better, 2) which sister will prove more aggressive, and 3) which sister is keeping her unforced error count as low as possible.
Serena against Venus creates a very special dynamic since there is so much emotion and tension present in their matches. I know if you ask them they always say that if they have to lose, they’d rather lost to each other. This will be their 21st meeting, so by now they have gotten used to all that goes into playing each other.
It’s not easy having to go out there and try to beat your sister, but both Serena and Venus have experienced it enough, that they can handle it better than they did earlier in their careers. They have done a good job of putting it in the back of their minds and just competing.
I’m absolutely sure that it’s a pleasure for their parents to be able to sit in the stands and be so proud of their daughters playing and succeeding at Wimbledon. But on the converse side, I can only imagine the intense anxiety for the family to have to be neutral while a match unfolds between the two siblings. From what I understand their father, Richard Williams, will not be on hand when they play for the title as he finds the situation too unbearable to watch in person.
Obviously, Serena and Venus are both so motivated when playing each other. In the last year and a half, Serena and Venus have squared off six times, and the matches have either gone three sets or been decided by two close sets. But when push comes to shove, I give Serena like a two-percent edge, and that will be enough to bring her a third Wimbledon ladies’ singles title.