CHARLESTON, S.C.—The Sister Sledge anthem “We Are Family” blared from the sound system as the Williams sisters stepped on court for today’s Family Circle Cup semifinal showdown. An electric atmosphere accompanied their first meeting since 2009—the longest gap between their matches they’ve ever had—and the crowd roared as Venus bopped back to the baseline savoring the soundtrack for tennis’ most famous sibling rivalry.
But Serena promptly pulled the plug on the sound and flurry, leaving her displaced older sister looking like a woman searching for a spare seat when the music stops in a game of musical chairs. The defending champion reeled off the first four games in 13 minutes and never looked back in a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing that spanned just 54 minutes. It was Serena’s 10th consecutive victory, coming off her title run at the Sony Open in Miami.
A year ago, the Charleston Har-Tru served as a springboard for Serena, who rolled through the field to capture the title and spark a surge that saw her reign on the blue clay of Madrid, regain the Wimbledon crown, complete the career Golden Slam by capturing the Olympic singles gold medal at SW19, and collect her 15th Grand Slam at the 2012 U.S. Open.
The Williams sisters are co-stars in a new documentary on their lives, and while today’s family reunion—their first clay-court clash since Serena beat Venus in the 2002 French Open final—may recall the days of their shared dominance, Serena was in no mood to be upstaged. She pounded a pair of aces to hold in the opening game, then broke when Venus double-faulted into net, overcame a 0-30 deficit to hold in the third game, and cracked a precise cross-court backhand pass that left her sister grasping at air. After a mere 13 minutes of play, it was 4-0. At that point, it appeared Serena might pitch an opening-set shutout, but Venus responded.
Venus belted a backhand winner down the line for break point and followed with a forehand down the line to break for 4-1, prompting supportive cheers from the crowd. The streets of downtown Charleston were swarming with runners and revelers celebrating the annual Cooper River Bridge run this morning, and that festive atmosphere carried over to the tennis, as fans repeatedly tried to rouse Venus into a comeback. But Serena muted them, exploiting another Venus double fault to break back for 5-1 before closing the 22-minute first set with an emphatic love hold. The serve was a key stroke: Serena served 81 percent and hit two aces, while Venus connected on just 52 percent of her first serves, dumping four double faults in the opener.
Both sisters served double duty in winning two matches apiece yesterday after rain washed out much of Wednesday’s schedule. Venus, who says her ongoing battle with the energy-sapping Sjogren’s syndrome sometimes leaves her feeling like a Formula I car running on a half tank of gas, couldn’t keep pace with Serena in running rallies. Serena hits with more topspin and consequently has more margin for error over the net.
Realizing she wasn’t gaining traction in running rallies, Venus tried to play closer to the baseline and change direction with down-the-line drives, but her accuracy did not match her ambition. Serena broke at 15 to open the second set, slid a 109 M.P.H. ace wide to consolidate for 2-0, and wasn’t tested on serve the rest of the match. When Venus slapped an off-balance forehand into net, Serena had her second break and a 5-2 lead; the sisters ended their brief reunion clasping hands at net.