Mere hours from one of the most anticipated Serena vs Venus matches ever, and not a single comment about whose turn it is to lose to whom. Man, We sure have come a long way baby.
If I had to sum up the pre-match vibe for the sisters impending Australian Open Final in one word, that one word would be respect.
Seems the sporting world has made a once and final peace with the Williams Sisters. Venus for her part has carried herself exemplary these past few years. She has struggled with her tennis, she has struggled even more so with her health. But in spite of her obvious challenges, the thing I loved most about her was she never complained. She never made excuses. She’s been an exercise in class and dignity. I just can’t think of an athlete so deserving of one more shot at a major title than Venus Williams.
Serena has always been a bit more complex. Her awe-inspiring play often offset by some head shaking antics. But she’s been better of late. Her injuries and a few heart breaking losses seemed to have humbled her a bit. She seems more vulnerable, maybe losing her spot atop the rankings brought a little missing perspective to her mission.
Yet off the court, she has never seemed more assured, courageously taking on some of society’s most challenging and controversial social issues, while simultaneously making life-defining decisions in her personal life, getting engaged to her long time beaux. Maybe the whole concept of settling down has settled her down a bit, for she has been at her all time best this 2017 Australian.
For those of us who’ve been around from their beginning, we’ve watched the Williams sisters both grow up before our very eyes. It’s impossible to not be immensely impressed with the two people they’ve become. Tennis as a sport could not be more fortunate to have them as our lead ambassadors.
Yet they must square off tonight with quite a bit on the line. Serena trying valiantly for one more major to break Steffi Graf’s record of 22. Venus, vying for her first Major in 9 years, back in the Australian Final for the first time in 14 years. This match is a statisticians dream, their 28th match head to head, their ninth in a Grand Slam Final. The numbers are plane dizzying to wrap your head around.
As for the tennis. As the famous boxing line goes, styles make fights. Generally speaking, The Williams Sisters matches don’t always live up to the hype. When two players play such similar styles, and in the case of the Williams, that style involves taking the ball early and aggressively, hitting quite flat, with minimal margin for error. What becomes challenging is for both players to play well at the same time.
They both play such forceful styles, as well as having two of the best first serves in the women’s game. The points are generally short, finishing with either a bullet winner or an overplayed error. There is little in between when the Williams play. So when one or both of them are struggling, the play can drag. But if they are both on, play can be quite electrifying. Of course we are all rooting for the latter, but…
But what makes watching the Williams compete always so difficult are the palpable emotions both players wear on their faces. As much as they try to be professional and just play tennis, its always their sister across the net. My experience in watching them play is it often feels like an exhibition, that one or both of them have an emotional foot out the door, never fully invested in conquering their opponent across the net no matter what.
They look pained playing each other, and rightfully so. I have siblings, and often, we barely get along. Yet even then, I just can’t imagine fist pumping my brother, or giving him a little side-eye during a tennis match. There’s just something about the one on one aspect of competition that complicates matters. Put us on opposing teams, no problem. Put a net between us, problem.
Maybe after 15 years and now 28 matches they’ve gotten better at competing against each other. But even as a fan, there is no traditional hero/villain dynamic in play here. They have both earned not just my reverence, but so many of ours reverence. I struggle envisioning rooting for one over the other.
So with that, let’s just hope they both play lights out. They have nothing left to prove to anybody in tennis. Maybe that will free them up to play their best match yet.