Friday, January 27, 2017

Will Serena Throw Australian Open Title to Venus?

A few years back Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open due to complications from Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder causing pain, fatigue, and extreme dryness of the eyes and mouth. Folks thought her career was over. I thought she'd had a pretty good run at the time.

But now Venus will play younger sister Serena in another pairing at the Australian Open. Serena's been the dominant sister for some time now, and she doesn't seem to be slowing down. But Venus is doing well of late, too. Indeed, I was surprised when I saw earlier reports on Venus making the semifinal round. So, will the younger Serena go easy this weekend, allowing her sister to have one last championship at one of the "Grand Slam" major tournaments? Who knows? People have speculated for years that the sisters rigged their matches. It's gotta be a nightmare playing your sister, especially as they seem so close.

We'll see. Maybe this won't be the last time the two face off?

At NYT, "A Final Match for Venus and Serena Williams. But Maybe Not the Last One":

MELBOURNE, Australia — The sibling rivalry, at least on the tennis tour, started right here at the Australian Open for the Williams sisters.

It was 1998, and older sister Venus beat younger sister Serena, 7-6 (4), 6-1, in a second-round match that — as intrusive as it felt to watch — surely drew more attention than any second-round match in history between a pair of Australian Open debutantes.

The fascination in their dynamic and their futures was there from the start in Melbourne Park, known then as Flinders Park when it had only one stadium with a retractable roof instead of three. A picture of Venus consoling Serena after the match was on the front page of The New York Times.

Though it would be tempting to label their Australian Open final on Saturday as a full-circle moment and to speculate that it might be their last meeting at this late a stage of a Grand Slam tournament, it seems best to resist the temptation.

The Williams sisters have taught us a lot about the limits of conventional tennis wisdom through the years. And so, even if 19 years have passed and Serena is now 35 and Venus 36, it is wise to avoid fencing them in again after they have run roughshod over so many other preconceptions.

“I watched Venus today celebrating after she won the semifinal like she was a 6-year-old girl, and it made you want to cry for joy just watching her,” said Marion Bartoli, a former Wimbledon champion. “Such a powerful image, and it makes you think about all those questions she was getting: ‘When are you retiring? Have you thought about retiring? How much longer?’

“You must let the champions decide when the right moment comes.”

The Williamses are both great champions, even if Serena is clearly the greater player with her 22 Grand Slam singles titles and her long run at No. 1, a spot she can reclaim from Angelique Kerber with a win Saturday....


They have not played since the 2015 United States Open, when Serena won, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, in a quarterfinal in which Venus attacked, often successfully, from the start but had no answer in the end for Serena’s ultimate weapon: her first serve.

Saturday’s final in Melbourne could be intriguing on multiple levels, in part because of the Australian public. Venus is viewed here, as elsewhere, as a sympathetic figure: the older sister who has handled the younger’s greater tennis success unselfishly and with dignity. And though both sisters have had to cope with major health problems and family tragedy, with the murder of their half sister Yetunde Price in 2003, Venus is the one whose tennis fortunes dipped more dramatically.

A seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and a former No. 1, she did not advance past the third round in any major event in singles from late 2011 to the end of the 2014 season.

She was a major star reduced to a minor role, largely because of an autoimmune disorder — Sjogren’s syndrome, diagnosed in 2011 — that sapped her strength and endurance. When Russian hackers breached the World Anti-Doping Agency’s databases last fall, it was revealed that Venus had needed 13 therapeutic-use exemptions for drugs in recent years.

The retirement questions to which Bartoli referred started during that period. But Venus’s ability to cope with her condition has improved, and after rejoining the top 10 in 2015, she reached the semifinals at Wimbledon last year and then the final here.

“She never even thought of the word retire,” said David Witt, her coach and hitting partner of 10 years. “I just think when she got diagnosed, it was a step back, a shock. She’s learned a lot about how to deal with it and her body, how to eat, how to manage it...
Still more.