WIMBLEDON, England -- A deepened understanding of the two human beings who are the Williams sisters became available Saturday at the All England Club, where Venus Williams won with a muted celebration and Serena Williams lost with a telling despondency.
When their high-quality Wimbledon final in swirling Centre Court wind ended, and when Venus won her fifth Wimbledon title by 7-5, 6-4, their identities as older sister and younger sister did resonate.
Venus, the older sister, said she played with persistent awareness of her opponent because, “At no point am I ever able to forget Serena, because I have the ultimate respect for her game and I have a lot of respect for her serve. If I was playing anyone else I wouldn’t have to face what I had to face today, so it’s impossible to forget.”
With an opposite reaction, Serena, the coddled younger sister, said, “It’s definitely not any easier. I just look at her as another opponent at the end of the day” -- this, only days after saying losses to her sister hurt less.
She then continued moping.
Asked for impressions of her sister’s five titles, Serena said, “Well, it says a lot about her, I mean, she’s won five Wimbledons now. She’s beaten me on grass now, so that definitely says a lot.”
It definitely says that a player who has won five Wimbledons has beaten a player who has won two.
In those observations and in others lurked a partial explanation for Serena’s unmitigated dominance over her sister in their five Grand Slam finals between the 2002 French Open and Wimbledon 2003. Clearly it owed something to a greater ruthlessness, a greater ability to forget the love for the person across the net.
Asked if she were happy for her sister, Serena said, “Yeah, of course,” but in a tone so sullen it suggested that as the self-proclaimed baby of the family, she hadn’t labored over the question.
Asked to speculate on her reaction had Serena won, Venus said, “I think I would have been happy for her. I would have been more disappointed . . . about the number. Like five” -- titles -- “is really monumental. Like last year I thought four was incredible, but now five is -- I would have been more disappointed about not being able to make the history than actually not winning the match, if that makes any sense.”
The protector, Venus, 28, said of losing in the past, “The times I lost, I tried. She put a ton of pressure on me. She hit my best serve back for winners, just was unbelievable, and she just played better. So there was not much I could do. I tried.”
The protected, Serena, 26, said of losing when told she didn’t look happy, “I don’t? I wonder why.”
“I mean, I was out there playing for Serena, you know,” she said.
In their first collective Grand Slam final in five years, Venus had engaged in some trend-bucking. She had pared the 8-5 lead Serena once had in Grand Slam titles to 8-7 in Serena’s favor. She had evened their all-time series at 8-8. She had joined the 1880s superstars Charlotte Dod and Charlotte Cooper Sterry among those with five Wimbledon singles titles, and come up one shy of 20th-century mastodons such as Billie Jean King and Suzanne Lenglen. She had done so with King and Martina Navratilova in the royal box.
What’s more, she had blunted a bit of the thrust she took from her own sister five and six years earlier, as if she realized her sister would be fine and decided to gather more of her own trophies and plates.
She knew the statistics.
“Obviously today I wanted to try to improve that record, and I didn’t want the same trend to keep happening and then be like 6-1,” Venus said. “So I climbed a tiny little notch up, so it’s 2-5. Sill behind, but I’m working on it.”
At the outset, Serena had seemed imperious, leading 2-0 and 4-2. She also had slugged a passing shot in the third game right toward Venus, who, at the net, quickly dodged it and blocked a backhand volley into the open court for a winner.
Venus had come back, through a mammoth four-deuce game at 4-4, and through a seven-deuce game at 1-1 in the second set. Finally, they stayed on serve until Serena came to 4-5, and Venus shrieked and screamed with obvious intent through a 12-shot rally, using a backhand that traveled a tight angle to set up a blast of a backhand winner up the line into the corner to set up two match points.
From there, Serena saved one, but on the second, a seven-shot rally ended with Serena’s backhand floating wide, landing amid the doubles lane and sending Venus into a . . .
Well, into a brief raise of her arms, followed by a quick lowering of same arms and a trot to the net for a hug that Serena, so accustomed to triumph, barely returned.
“Of course when I saw it go wide, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s five. Wow,’ ” Venus said.
They’d amassed 157 points each, but she had proved stouter on the pivotal points, and had served to the body so much that Serena said she’d be ready for it next time. With her sister already 26 and established, Venus willed some achievement of her own, with the new twist in the rivalry downright telltale.