Anytime mononymous superstar sisters Serena and Venus face off, you can be sure that all tennis fans will be watching. But while the two have given us a handful of spectacular matches in the past, for the most part, their matches have rarely lived up to the momentous hype that surrounds them.
Of their 30 previous encounters, only six have broken the two-hour threshold. Serena owns the head-to-head advantage 18-12, has won four of the last five and has been the oddsmakers' unanimous favorite against her sister for the better part of the last two decades. Anytime Venus scores a victory, it’s generally considered an upset. That’s no knock against Venus; it’s an acknowledgement of Serena’s unprecedented greatness.
But will that be the case for their 31st meeting this week at the Top Seed Open in Lexington? Serena will likely be favored, as she almost always is regardless of opponent, but I’m not so sure she should be.
She was fortunate to escape world No. 60 Bernarda Pera in what Tennis Channel analyst Brett Haber called “a Houdini Act.” Down triple break point at 4-4 in the second, a Serena backhand was millimeters from sailing long and presenting Pera with a chance to serve for the match. Despite her freshly built home tennis court, Serena was rusty in every sense of the word.
Her sister, on the other hand, arguably delivered one of the best performances of her career. Venus didn’t just beat Victoria Azarenka in her opening round, she destroyed her, winning 57 percent of all points en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Venus was on fire in her 6-3, 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka. (Getty Images)
When asked about her terrific tennis, an extra-bubbly Venus was simply gushing.
“I just want to say hi to my mom and dad and my sisters, I love you. Also I want to say thank you to all the healthcare workers out there keeping everybody safe. Thank you to the WTA for putting this on, we are so happy to be back, I’ve just never been so grateful to play and I’ve never appreciated the fans more. With all that being said, yes, that was a crazy first round.”
Clearly Venus is in a tremendous headspace right now, and it showed on the court. In addition to her always exceptional first-strike tennis, her movement appeared crisper than ever. While Serena will almost certainly be the oddsmakers' favorite on Thursday, this appears as good a chance as ever for Venus to strike back in the series.
It’s small and subtle, but during the hiatus, Venus appears to have cleaned up her first-service motion. Her take back is abbreviated, meaning less can go wrong. Anytime Venus makes 70 percent of her first serves, like she did today, she’s a nightmare to play.
But it wasn’t just her dominance on serve that led her to victory—her defense and scrambling was superb all day.
Venus is a queen of first-strike tennis, but she dominated the long rallies against Azarenka on Tuesday. That’s not normally the case for the 40-year-old—or any 40-year-old, for that matter.
To cap off her special day, Venus painted the line with a spectacular running backhand lob winner hit from well outside the camera frame. It’s not how she normally puts the nail in the coffin, but today wasn’t any ordinary day for the seven-time major champion.
What separates Serena from her peers is her uncanny ability to fight through tough moments and raise her play when it matters most. Serena is notorious for surviving the opening rounds and playing her way deep into tournament draws.
But no matter the result, we should relish the chance to see sport’s greatest sister act at least one more time.
“It’s so special,” Venus said on facing her sister for the 31st time. “Who would have guessed this draw would have happened? Playing two former world No. 1’s in the first two rounds.”
And if her play on Tuesday was any indication, do not be shocked to see Venus crush her way to victory.
The Pick: Venus Williams