There was remarkably little angst leading up to the latest meeting between Venus and Serena Williams. Their usual foil, Martina Hingis, was in the other half of the draw.
Defending champion Lindsay Davenport was out in 54 minutes against Serena on Wednesday. Elena Dementieva won only three games against Venus.
All so neat, so easy and so uncomplicated.
Then Dementieva entered the interview room. The Russian teenager bluntly declared that the outcome of the semifinal match between the Williams sisters tonight at the Tennis Masters Series would be determined by their father, Richard Williams.
"I don't know what Richard thinks about it. I think he will decide who's going to win tomorrow," Dementieva said. "But it looks like Serena because I saw a little bit of this match [against Davenport]. She played extremely well. I think she will be in the final."
Nothing concrete. Apparently, Dementieva's thinking was influenced by a match two years old.
"I remember when they played in Lipton. If you saw this match, it was so funny," she said referring to the 1999 final in Florida.
Venus and Serena Williams have played five times on the pro tour--from Melbourne, Australia, to Rome to Miami to Munich, Germany, and England--with Venus winning four matches, including the 1999 Lipton final and 2000 Wimbledon semifinals. Conspiracy theories of a prearranged result abounded, particularly at Lipton.
Pat Cash, the retired champion who was doing commentary for the BBC, made that assertion at Wimbledon, and other media outlets raised the possibility, but again with no concrete evidence. Richard pooh-poohed it, and Venus, when asked then about the existence of an arrangement said, "No, not that I'm aware of."
On Wednesday, efforts to reach Richard Williams for a response to Dementieva's comments were unsuccessful. Dementieva arrived in the interview room long after Venus and Serena had left the Tennis Garden. Serena played her quarterfinal match first, defeating Davenport, 6-1, 6-2, then Venus beat Dementieva, 6-0, 6-3.
Richard watched Wednesday, but his daughters weren't sure he would be at the semifinals. The last time he was in this situation, he said he walked 12 miles through the scenic streets around Wimbledon, avoiding the match. Here, of course, walking 12 miles might be dull after getting past Indio.
Davenport said she knew Venus would beat Serena at Wimbledon and alluded to the unusual aspect of the sister-sister matches.
"I just thought that, you know, Serena, had won a Grand Slam title [first], whether or not it was on purpose or subconsciously or whatever, that Venus was going to win that match," she said. "That was my opinion. Everyone else has their own."
This is one of the rare times outside a Grand Slam that Venus and Serena have been in the same singles draw. Serena's only victory against Venus was in 1999 at the Grand Slam Cup final in Munich, shortly after her U.S. Open title.
"At the Wimbledon semifinals, I really wanted to win Wimbledon, so I guess I played a little better that day," Venus said. "She played me in a final at the Grand Slam Cup. That day, I really just was scraping to get that one set that I got from her. She was playing well that day.
"So, it's easy to focus because, if I don't, the result will be terrible."
Serena said she didn't want to answer questions about changing her mental approach against Venus. "I don't think about losing," she said.
Davenport thought Serena would be difficult to beat based on her form. The last time Davenport lost a match in such a one-sided fashion was at Tokyo in February 1995. Kimiko Date beat Davenport, 6-1, 6-2, in the final. "I'm not sure how to react right now," Davenport said. "I'm a little bit shocked."
She wasn't the only perplexed loser.
Said Dementieva: "I think we both played very bad today. . . . She gave me so any chances, especially in the second set, and I didn't use it at all."
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Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams (head to head):
Tournament Surface Round Winner Scores 1998 Australian Open Hard Second Venus 7-6 (4), 6-1 1998 Italian Open Clay Quarters Venus 6-4, 6-2 1999 Lipton Hard Final Venus 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 1999 Grand Slam Cup Hard Final Serena 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 2000 Wimbledon Grass Semis Venus 6-2, 7-6 (3)