Saturday, July 4, 2009

the ladies single final preview at wimbledon

You would imagine that Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home of the Williams sisters, is celebrating now. Another publicity boost for the old town. That sort of thing. Apparently not. They take the ongoing brilliance of Venus and Serena quite calmly, it seems.

And the two women accept it because, as Venus points out, the United States is a big place where they have lots of stars in a multitude of sports. It seems that Venus and Serena are a bigger item here at Wimbledon than they are in Palm Beach Gardens.

Richard Williams, their father and coach, announced after their respective semi-final victories on Friday that he was heading home "to cut the grass" rather than watch his daughters do battle with each other. He never watches them play each other, he says, never has done and never will. Since this will be their 21st meeting at professional level, Richard's grass must be extremely well tended.

The grass on Centre Court is beginning to look a mite bare and scorched after the weather we have basked in for the past two weeks, but it will no doubt bear up for the bashing it will receive from the best pair in women's tennis as, once again, they go about disputing the destination of the Venus Rosewater Dish in the 123rd Championships, appropriately on the Fourth of July, America's Independence Day.

Speaking of fourths, this will be the fourth time the two have met in the Wimbledon final, and is a repeat of the 2008 occasion, when Venus won in straight sets. Serena won the other two, back to back in 2002 and 2003 and she is muttering that is about time she won Wimbledon again. She has generally had the edge when it comes to Grand Slam finals against her older sister.

Five of Venus' six defeats in the finals of majors have come at the hands of Serena, taking in the whole of the Grand Slam scene, the others being one in New York, one in Paris and one in Melbourne.

So dominant have they been at Wimbledon that only one women's final in this new century has not included at least one Williams. That was in 2006, when Amelie Mauresmo beat Justine Henin. Both will be playing their 14th Grand Slam final, Serena's won-lost record being 10-3 and that of Venus a more modest 7-6.

As usual, they have been sharing a house near the All England Club's grounds and acting in the sisterly fashion they insist is their habit, though they tend not to share the same courtesy car to bring them to their date with destiny.

'Venus is running like a deer right now, and Serena is hitting the ball as hard as a man'

Each woman has won 10 of their 20 matches, what Serena calls "super intense". Asked whether they didn't sometimes tire of facing each other, Serena insisted: "The more we play the better it gets. This one here is for everything. This is what we dreamed of when we were growing up in Compton 20-something years ago. This is what we worked for, and this is what we want."

Serena feels, quite rightly, that Venus is playing the best tennis of this year's Championships. She has not dropped a set, has lost just 19 games in six matches and has spent only six and a half hours on court. Serena, thanks to that marathon semi-final against Elena Dementieva, has a court time almost two hours longer, in which she has lost one set.

The record of Venus, a five-time champion of Wimbledon like Roger Federer, shows how her game and the courts of London SW19 complement each other. She has now won 34 successive completed sets and has not conceded a set since the third round of the 2007 Championships.

Though the two of them are thoroughly schooled in diplomacy when it comes to talking about the other, Venus emphasises the tremendous respect she has for her younger sibling (27 years of age, as opposed to 29): "Even if [Serena] is not playing her best, it is just that fight she has. There's so much to face when you play her. It's definitely a lot to get your mind around. We both play such a similar game. After all, we had the same teacher [their father]. But what is especially the same is the respect that we have for each other on and off the court."

Venus concedes that a Grand Slam final against her sister is different from that against any other opponent. "It is different because I'm happy for her to be in the final, but I have to face her and defeat her. I don't necessarily want her to lose, but for sure I want me to win.

“I don't ever like to see her disappointed in any way but, at the same time, I don't want to see myself disappointed. I need to get my titles, too. But I definitely want to play her in Grand Slam finals like this because the dream has come true for both of us, and for our family, too."

Before taking himself off to attend to that lawn of his, Richard Williams declined to forecast this afternoon's winner, confining himself to these descriptions of his daughters. "Venus is running like a deer right now, and Serena is hitting the ball as hard as a man."

There are some who feel that yet another all-Williams Wimbledon final is becoming rather repetitious, but the best players tend to come out on top, and these two are the best in the women's game, and have been for quite a few years now. Challengers have come and gone, but the Palm Beach Gardens girls motor on. It's a shame that they aren't making a bit more of it back there in Florida.

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