When Venus and Serena Williams played on Centre Court at Wimbledon on Monday, the match fell way short of the buildup.
Which is just the way they like it.
Serena won in 1 hour 8 minutes. Before you could wash down your strawberries and cream with some warm tea, it was over. She hit 10 aces and 36 winners and broke Venus’ serve at love in the last game to win, 6-4, 6-3.
It was how it was supposed to happen, how the form-sheet seedings said it would. Serena is No. 1 in the world and obviously top-seeded here. Venus was No. 16. When Serena is playing well, as she is right now — she carries her run at No. 1 into its 248th week — she is pretty much untouchable (although Britain’s Heather Watson gave her a big scare in the previous round).
This marked Serena’s 25th consecutive victory in a major tournament, and it kept her going toward two goals — a fourth straight Grand Slam tournament victory, which would be the second “Serena Slam” in her career; and a much sought-after calendar year Grand Slam. She already has won the Australian and French Opens this year.
It was the 26th time Serena, who will be 34 on Sept. 26, and Venus, who turned 35 on June 17, have faced each other on the tour. Serena extended her lead to 15-11.
More interesting than all those statistics is the story of two sisters, originally from Compton, rising to the top of the tennis world and staying there for so long. Serena has won 20 Grand Slam titles, third on the all-time list; Venus has seven. Each has won here, in the Grandest of the Slams, five times.
That sister story drives headlines and broadcast chatter well beyond the norm. With it, somehow, comes expectation of drama or soap operas.
For example, one oft-repeated story in the local papers is how their father, Richard, taught them the game on Compton’s public courts. True. And that those courts were pockmarked with bullet holes from gang shootings. Probably not true.
Venus’ default to Serena and Serena’s long boycott of Indian Wells is always revisited, as are the frequent commitments to and pull-outs from tournaments. This was the third straight major in which the sisters pulled out of the doubles after entering. Also used for fodder is last year’s strange departure by Serena in the doubles, when she couldn’t even pitty-pat a serve into the court and left in a convoy of medical people.
But mostly, the fascination is driven by how good they are after all these years, and, also after all these years, how little we really know about them. In today’s celebrity-conscious world, just being good at something doesn’t satisfy that public appetite anymore.
Both sisters were pressed after the match, with little success, to reveal little tidbits about their relationship. They do, after all, live together. Pry as one might, the lid seldom comes off.
Venus was coaxed into kind of admitting that Serena’s music can get noisy.
“She definitely uses the whole house,” Venus said.
And Serena, again under some coaxing, admitted that Venus’ dog can get under her skin. But even that discussion was kind of vague, like many of their answers to the press.
“He [the dog] kind of uses me, yeah,” Serena said. “Whenever [Venus] comes home, he goes back to her. . . . Been talking to her about that.”
Venus is in her 20th year on the tour, Serena in her 18th, and their public affection for each other has never changed.
Serena: “Venus is the perfect sister.” And, “I always say, I wouldn’t be the player I am without Venus.”
Venus: “She’s a champion . . . the ultimate.” And, "[Playing Serena] has always been exciting and always been intense, because you know the person across the net is so good and the person you respect the most. And you know, chances are, they’re one of the best that ever played the game.”
They have dominated here, at the place where the most vivid legends in tennis are created. After Monday’s match, Serena’s record at Wimbledon is 73-10, Venus’ 73-13.
If there were really bullet holes in those courts in Compton when they were growing up, the sisters have certainly distanced themselves from that sort of life now. The home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is easily affordable. Together, they have won more than $100 million on the tour, $70 million by Serena.
The world might have wanted sexier stuff from them Monday. A little controversy? One sister huffing and puffing at the other? How about at least a grimace or raised eyebrow in the direction of the other?
Instead, it just got very good tennis.
The picture most likely used in the media from the match will be sister hugging sister at the net when it was over. Would that not be a nice entree into a bit more color and flavor about this talented and guarded pair?
Venus was asked what was said there.
“Sisterly words,” she said.