— Yeah, I’m the guy who said I didn’t want to see an all-Williams Wimbledon. But now that both Serena and Venus have arrived in the final, I’m sure not going to complain. They earned their spots, they’re the two most magnificent players in the world, they’re better than ever, and all I can do is tip my hat to them, sit back and enjoy the show.
America has never seen a sibling act like these two. They are among the all-time greats in their sport, the owners of a combined 17 grand slam singles titles with number 18 coming on Saturday. Venus holds a 5-2 edge at Wimbledon and Serena holds a 10-7 edge in total grand slams. Though Serena is two years younger, they may as well be twins; when facing each other in all tournaments, their record is 10-10, at Wimbledon, it’s 2-2.
My objection to watching them play each other is that I don’t know who to cheer for; I like them both. Sure, that’s shallow, but that’s what makes sports great. We don’t need deep thought or heavy philosophizing to enjoy them or form an allegiance. For most of us, it’s enough to say we cheer for one team or another because it represents our home town or it’s the team dad cheered for. If rational thought went into it, the Pittsburgh Pirates would have run out of fans years ago.
So now my reason for watching them is that they’re so darned good, it’s impossible not to. Even when they’re not playing particularly well, as was the case with Serena on Thursday, they’ll put on a show.
Serena’s victory over Elena Dementieva in the semifinal was the stuff of legend, a three-set drama with every set ending in overtime. It was a victory of the will. Dementieva looked to be the better player on this day, but when she got to the biggest moment, Serena made the biggest shots.
She survived 28 unforced errors and faced down a match point when she was down 4-5 in the final set. She fought it off with a daring attack on the net and a net-cord winning volley. Five games later, she had her date with her sister on Centre Court.
Dementieva could easily have won, and she has to know it. But there’s a reason Dementieva has never won a Grand Slam title despite nine consecutive years in the top 20 and five years in the top 10. It comes down not to how well you play overall, but how well you play the points that decide matches.
On a day when her game was totally on, Dementieva came up short on those points. On a day when her game sometimes seemed spackled together from parts she found at a garage sale, Serena hit her biggest shots at the biggest moments.
We obsess on personality in sports, especially in tennis. Over the years, we’ve nitpicked both Venus and Serena Williams on a dozen different fronts. We’ve questioned their dedication, their fashion sense, their egos, their father, their dramatics.
All of that goes with the territory, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to throw it all aside and take a moment to appreciate just how great they’ve been. They’ve carried women’s tennis in the United States for a long time. For years, Lindsay Davenport was also a major international force, but she’s retired to the joys of motherhood. If it weren’t for the Williams sisters, American tennis would be like American soccer — promising, but not quite ready for the world’s best.
They’re getting old by tennis standards. Venus is 29, an age at which most women players are in decline. Serena is 27, and that, too, is ancient in tennis years. Yet they’re both playing as well as they ever have — maybe better than ever. They have plenty of other interests that at times have taken their focus away from the game, but they still burn with competitive fire.
They’ll give us a show. And if I can’t decide which one to pull for, that’s my problem, not theirs. If history is any indication, NBC won’t care, either. When the Williams sisters go head-to-head in grand slam finals, television ratings tend to improve dramatically.
And how can you not watch them? Venus is taller and more gazelle-like. Serena is thicker and more powerful. Both mash their serves. Both hit punishing ground strokes. Both play with passion and verve and raw emotion.
We don’t know how much longer we’ll have them around at the top of their games. At their age, one bad injury can mark the end. Or, one or the other may decide to get married and start a family. Or they might just move on with lives that are not constricted by the white lines of the tennis court.
This could be the last time we see them playing each other in the final of a Grand Slam tournament. At this stage in their lives and careers, you can’t assume that there will be many more.
There’s nothing to do but enjoy the show.