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Sisters make sure the family is first

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Special to The Times

WIMBLEDON, England -- It’s worth repeating after all this time that the two people who will play for one of the most coveted titles on earth belong to the same immediate family, and that it’s amazing that such a thing could occur, and that it’s simultaneously ticklish.

After all, when Venus Williams, 28, plays her sister Serena Williams, 26, for the Wimbledon championship Saturday, it’s a scenario so distinct and otherworldly that even their own father, who crafted their careers, says he can’t bring himself to attend.

“I think it’ll be a fistfight, but I won’t be here,” Richard Williams said Thursday just after the semifinals. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning. You know I can’t take that. I don’t have enough Bayer.”

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That means aspirin, and aspirin has been known to abet heart health, and pere Williams claims that when his daughters played in the U.S. Open, he could watch only two points before he began to suffer palpitations, a worry exacerbated by Hank Aaron’s presence nearby, seeing as how Richard Williams didn’t want to collapse in the presence of Aaron.

He’ll fly home then, before this thing, and reckons he’ll spend Saturday morning away from any television. “I have a boat,” he said. “It’s a 19-foot boat. It’s the first boat I ever had in my life.”

He’ll be seaborne, while the finalists’ mother, Oracene Price, and sisters, Isha and Lyndrea, watch the first Williams-Williams Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2003, back when it seemed they might play every Grand Slam final into eternity.

“He can’t take it,” Isha Price said. “For them to play each other, he feels like that’s it for him. This is what he wanted.”

It’s so unusual, Isha said Thursday, because after that 2003 final, which Serena won, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, to give her five finals wins over Venus in the world’s previous six Grand Slams, the whole family went out to dinner. “It was intense,” Isha said. “It was weird. . . . My older sister [Yetunde] was here. That was the last one she was able to come to” before her death.

“But you know what’s the cool thing about it, they’ve both won here,” Isha Price said, referring to Venus’ four Wimbledon titles and Serena’s two. “Both their names are on the Venus Rosewater dish. . . . As far as we’re concerned, they both won.”

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Oddities abound. Here’s the final between two siblings clearly, unusually close, with Isha saying it’s because Venus is the innate protector and Serena the self-confessed baby who must get what she wants. What two finalists share a flat throughout Wimbledon? What two finalists have breakfast together on the morning of the final?

The peculiar stresses of playing a sister for a major title probably have contributed to the impression that their previous nine Grand Slam matches (Serena leads, 5-4) and six finals (Serena, 5-1) haven’t yielded sublime quality. Both scoff at that and point to their 2003 Australian Open final, which Serena won 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4.

“I really played the best I could and she was just better,” Venus said. “I mean, there were a series of matches where she was just better than I was at that point, you know, on that day. She was definitely on a high.

“I had just come off a couple of years of just winning everything. I was tired. And then she had just come off a couple of years of not winning anything and she was more prepared.”

That’s where they stood in 2002-03, before five years of injuries and hiatuses and outfits and questions and occasional crests at Grand Slam trophy presentations. Now, suddenly, seeded Nos. 6 and 7, they’ve torn through a gutted-out tournament with games so airtight that neither has lost a set.

“We’re good at this now,” Serena said. “We just leave everything out on the court.”

And the father who can’t bring himself to watch says his own late mother from rural Louisiana would say, “Hallelujah,” Richard Williams said. “I’m almost sure that’s what she would say.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Wimbledon: Day 11

A look at who won and what’s next at the All England Club. World rankings in parentheses:

Who won

* Venus Williams, United States (7) d. Elena Dementieva, Russia (5), 6-1, 7-6 (3) -- Williams even ventured to the net 21 times (winning 15 of the points), unleashing just a bit of her inner Navratilova. As if she needed another way to thrive at Wimbledon.

* Serena Williams, United States (6) d. Zheng Jie, China (133), 6-2, 7-6 (5) -- To prepare for any future meetings, Zheng said she’s hoping her hitting partner, who is also her husband, might be able to approximate Williams’ serve, which decided this match. “Maybe he need more practice,” she said.

* Rainer Schuettler, Germany (94) d. Arnaud Clement, France (145), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (7), 8-6 -- Here’s the clandestine semifinalist, weathering the second-longest match in Wimbledon history at 5 hours 12 minutes, two days, three separate delays, one match point for Clement, two for Schuettler. Sometimes Wimbledon just teems with unsung melodramas.

What’s next

* Roger Federer, Switzerland (1) vs. Marat Safin, Russia (75), men’s semifinal -- The reborn Safin, into his first Wimbledon semifinal, said, “I think it’s just a little bit too difficult it would be for me to beat” Federer. It’s a reminder that one thing that makes Safin so popular among reporters is his capacity to produce the rare sound of candor.

* Rafael Nadal, Spain (2) vs. Rainer Schuettler, Germany (94) -- So after 5 hours 12 minutes against Clement, they’re going to let Schuettler walk out to Centre Court to play the player you’d least like to play after playing somebody else for 5 hours 12 minutes. It’s cruelty.

* Venus Williams/Serena Williams, United States (11) vs. Nathalie Dechy, France/Casey Dellacqua, Australia -- They’re into the semifinals, the Williamses, seeking their third Wimbledon doubles title and first since 2002. Like they need more plates.

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-- Chuck Culpepper

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