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Serena Williams rallies to defeat sister Venus at Top Seed Open

Serena Williams returns a shot during the Top Seed Open on Aug. 13 in Lexington, Ky.
Serena Williams returns a shot during the Top Seed Open on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

In the latest renewal of a rivalry that began when they were learning how to play tennis on the public courts of Compton, Serena and Venus Williams pushed each other to produce some spectacular shots Thursday in a second-round match at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky. Serena Williams, the younger sister by 15 months, came back to defeat her big sister, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and take a 19-12 lead in their professional head-to-head matches.

Serena, who will be 39 next month, advances to the tournament quarterfinals. It’s the first Women’s Tennis Assn. event in the United States since COVID-19 shut down the sport in March.

“I honestly didn’t come here to win, for the first time in my career,” Serena Williams said during an on-court interview on the Tennis Channel. “I came here to get some matches.”

Serena lost six of seven games to end the first set but soon found her rhythm. She broke Venus’ service to go up 4-2 in the second set with a backhand winner and won the set when Venus hit a short forehand.

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The 23-time Grand Slam tournament winner returns to action Monday in Kentucky after six months of isolation with a new attitude of living in the now.

Serena broke Venus’ serve to go up 2-1 in the second set, but Venus Williams, who struggled with her serve early and seemed to steady herself before struggling again later in the match, broke back for 2-2. Venus broke Serena’s serve for a 4-2 lead, but Serena broke back. She then held for 4-4 and broke for a 5-4 lead with a backhand winner down the line. Serena hit two aces in the 10th game — one of them mildly disputed by Venus — and she emerged the winner when Venus hit a forehand that went long.

The sisters tapped rackets at the net at the end, skipping the traditional hugs in deference to safety rules put in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19. There were no fans in the stands, and the players had to handle their own towels.

Despite those differences, Serena Williams said she felt the emotional tug she always felt when playing her sister. “It’s never easy,” Serena said in a Zoom conference.

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Serena, left, and Venus Williams touch rackets after their Top Seed match.
Serena, left, and Venus Williams touch rackets after their Top Seed match.
(Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

“I feel like today I turned it up in the last two games. I needed to just play better. It was a high-quality match. Venus is playing really, really good.”

Serena Williams remains one Grand Slam singles title from matching Margaret Court’s record of 24. She has lost all four of the Grand Slam finals she has played since the birth of her daughter, Olympia, on Sept. 1, 2017. Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who defeated Williams in the 2019 U.S. Open final, announced Thursday that she would not defend her title this year.

“After many discussions with those closest to me, I have made the difficult decision not to return to New York this year,” Andreescu, who has been plagued by injuries since her big win, said via social media. “I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level. The U.S. Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there.

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“However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the COVID pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level. I want to express my appreciation to the U.S. [Tennis Assn.] and the [Women’s Tennis Assn.] for all of their efforts in making the event happen. I look forward to joining my competitors on court soon.”


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