The Williams sisters put some nice whipped cream and frosting on the inevitable here Tuesday night.
Venus played well, hit hard, served big and competed fiercely.
And Serena won.
That was what tennis hoped for, as well as everybody else the least bit interested. Maybe even Venus, as long as she felt good about her effort, which she said she did.
The score was 6-2, 1-6, 6-3. You would have gotten very short odds in Vegas that it would be something like that. Serena’s No. 1 ranking alone was the clearest indication that it would go like this, as well as those 21 major titles, 14 more than Venus has.
Now, history circles overhead at the U.S. Open, rather than parking down the street.
Serena Williams, certainly the greatest female player of this era and one of the greatest of any era, is within two match victories of joining the women’s tennis hallowed hall of greatness, a place where pictures should hang of Little Mo Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988). Those were the years they won a Grand Slam, a sweep of the four majors in a single year.
Serena’s year will be 2015, assuming she can keep it together for a semifinal against Italy’s Roberta Vinci and, seeming more and more likely, a final against the feisty one, Victoria Azarenka.
The Serena-Azarenka final is just a guess, unlike the outcome of Tuesday night’s quarterfinal between the pair the famed journalist Bud Collins loved to call “The Sisters Sledgehammer.”
They played perfectly to Collins’ nickname.
Serena served 12 aces and hit 35 winners, 11 more than her sister. Venus hit eight aces, made only 15 unforced errors and reached a service speed of 121 mph, just one tick slower than Serena’s top velocity of 122.
“It’s great to see her play well,” Serena said. “Right down to match point, it wasn’t easy.
“It was the toughest match I’ve played in a long time, and I think if she had been playing any other player, she would have won.”
The huge crowd of 23,771 in Arthur Ashe Stadium murmured a bit when Venus won the second set, but anybody who has watched Serena Williams play even a little bit knows that she is the queen of going walkabout and also the queen of snapping herself back into focus.
The third set began and Serena won the first game with an ace. The message: I’m going for it all the time now.
She broke Venus at 15-40 for 2-0, then got Venus to hit the ball out on a 110-mph serve to end the third game. Venus held, then Serena finished things off in her service game with a 97-mph ace for 4-1.
From there, it was just a matter of walking across the finish line. She hit a 107-mph ace out wide on match point, held the sisterly hug at the net long enough for photographers in their courtside mosh pit to snap a few angles, then walked to her chair as the crowd verbalized its adoration.
This, of course, wasn’t just any crowd. Donald Trump and Oprah were in the house, giving the event some additional spice, if that’s the word.
Tennis legend/commentator/conscience John McEnroe didn’t let the moment pass, making his way into the Trump box to shake hands with The Donald. Perhaps there are political aspirations we didn’t know about. We might know at the next set of debates, if McEnroe stands up in the audience and responds to one of the other candidates by shouting, “You cannot be serious.”
When the crowd calmed a bit, probably enough time for a few TV commercials, Serena walked to the center of the court and submitted to the usual hard-hitting, deep-probing interview that happens after every match here.
“What does it really feel like, playing your sister . . . ?”
For the Williams sisters, it was over, an hour and 38 minutes of high-quality tennis and one huge step closer to sports history for Serena.
“She has a wonderful mental game,” Venus said afterward, “but she also has the ability to come up with a great shot when she needs it. That’s been the hallmark of her game.”
That and flat-out winning.
She hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match since 2014 at Wimbledon, when a suddenly overachieving French woman named Alize Cornet frustrated her with drop shots and won. Cornet was seeded 27th in this tournament and went out in straight sets in the first round.
She is on a 26-match run at the U.S. Open, last losing to Samantha Stosur in the 2011 final.
She has lost only twice this year in 54 matches. Those losses came against Petra Kvitova — also a possibility for a tough final opponent here — and Belinda Bencic.
She has played 18 three-setters and lost one, to Bencic.
That’s why, once she got into that third set here Tuesday night, even playing against Venus, the result was pretty much a done deal.
People looking for special moments that said this was sister versus sister, other than that long hug at the net, got a quick glimpse in the second set.
With Serena serving at 1-2, Venus hit a shot that ran Serena to her backhand side. She barely got to the ball, lunged at it, hit it out and fell down. Venus caught the fall out of the corner of her eye and quickly turned to make sure little sis was OK.
Other players seldom show instant concern. But then, this was Venus Williams’ little sister, who is about to make tennis history.