Peter Bodo, TennisClosePeter Bodo has been covering tennis for over 35 years, mostly recently for ESPN. He is a former WTA Writer of the Year and the author of numerous books, including the classic The Courts of Babylon and the New York Times bestseller (with Pete Sampras), A Champion’s Mind. His new book on the 1975 Wimbledon final between Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors will be out in June of 2015.
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“Yeah, I still think of her as Serena, but I don’t … I don’t separate it.”
— Venus Williams, on whether she shares sister Serena’s ability to separate the sister from the rival when she looks across the net.
NEW YORK — Give Serena Williams credit for honesty. After she eliminated Venus from the US Open on Tuesday, she told the Arthur Ashe crowd that in a match, she doesn’t look at Venus as her sister. She looks at Venus as her competitor. Serena has that chip of ice that exists in the heart of most great champions.
That helps explain how Serena was able to vault over her formidably gifted sister to become perhaps the greatest female tennis player of all time. No need to pity Venus. She has lived large as well, albeit within the shadow cast by Serena.
Of all the factors that sometimes made these Venus versus Serena matches onerous exercises in sibling psychology, rather than spirited debates about the comparative virtues of the kick serve or gluten-free diet, etc., how the sisters’ relationship influences their ability to compete with each other is the most persistent theme. This is the one that won’t go away.
“I will always be the older sister,” Venus said after she lost this last battle 6-2, 1-6, 6-3. “That is never going to change.”
That’s a pity because even though the ticking of the sisters’ career clocks grows louder by the day — Venus is already 35, and Serena is 33 — in recent matches, it seemed like they competed against each other with fewer inhibitions and restraints.
Last summer in Montreal, an extremely close match Venus won, was a good example. In this latest match, Serena allowed herself a few fiery fist pumps and exhortations, though they were aimed at the ground rather than Venus’ visage.
But Venus’ comments challenge the feeling that the playing field has been leveled through experience, age, wisdom and success. The “rivalry” (no matter what, it certainly is that: Serena’s lead is a slim 16-11) still warrants an asterisk. It still generates the same questions and the same speculations. Would it be any different if either woman managed her sisterly emotions differently?
Perhaps this explains why both sisters — Serena in particular — appear tired of it all. When Venus was asked if anything was different from the times she and Serena played each other five or 10 years ago, she said: “I don’t think it’s changed. Not for me, no.”
Serena, who appeared melancholy during her own meeting with reporters, praised Venus and reiterated her conviction that she’s the “toughest opponent I face.” At the same time, Serena seemed distant. When her attitude was pointed out, she grew animated and said: “It’s 11:30. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here.”
Because of the friendly way she said it, everyone laughed. “I just want to be in bed right now,” she said. “I have to wake up early to practice. I don’t want to answer any of these questions, and you keep asking me the same questions. It’s not really — you’re not making it super enjoyable.”
Historic, yes. Enjoyable, no. Not ever. Credit Serena with honesty again.
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