Column: Serena and Venus Williams remind us how two Black women from Compton inspired dreams
They sat together, whispered together, strategized together, two against the world, like they used to be.
Serena and Venus Williams accepted a wild-card entry into the U.S. Open women’s doubles field as a nostalgic indulgence, a gift to themselves in what’s likely to be Serena’s final tournament before she continues her self-described evolution and leaves competitive tennis. Serena wanted to remember what it felt like to play alongside her elegant, long-legged older sister, who cracked open the doors that Serena later blew off their hinges. Venus obliged.
“It was Serena’s idea. She’s the boss, so I do whatever she tells me to do,” Venus said earlier this week with an affectionate smile.
As it turned out, their doubles reunion on Thursday — their first in a Grand Slam tournament since the 2018 French Open and first at Flushing Meadows since 2014 — wasn’t a gift for them alone.
It was a present for everyone who appreciates how far they have come and held out hope their journey would last a little while longer, for fans who knew all about their days on hard-used courts in Compton and those who began appreciating them while Venus won seven Grand Slam singles titles, Serena won 23, and teamed up for 14 Slam doubles championships, including two at the U.S. Open.
Serena Williams isn’t ready to walk away yet as she fended off No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
If storybook endings were written by majority vote, the sellout crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium would have dictated a happy chapter for the Williams sisters when they faced Lucie Hradecka and 17-year-old Linda Noskova of Czechia on Thursday. Reality intruded rudely for Venus, 42, and Serena, soon 41, with the Czech duo’s 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory.
The Williams sisters embraced at the end of the match and exited the court to a standing ovation. They were together, of course, Serena heading toward a possible career-extending third-round singles match against Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday and Venus to continue being her own unique self in addition to being her sister’s trusted rock.
The nimble Czechs earned their victory, saving two set points in the 10th game of the first set, erasing the sisters’ 5-3 lead in the tiebreak, and holding off a late push that brought the Williams sisters from 4-1 down to 4-4. It wasn’t a total loss because Serena got some much-needed match play and got more repetition with her serve. Those gains could help her on Friday.
Noskova apologized for beating the legendary duo, whose best days she was too young to see. She was born in November 2004, and by then Venus and Serena had combined to win six Grand Slam doubles titles, an Olympic gold medal and three Women’s Tennis Assn. titles. Their match was an intersection of generations. Youth won out.
“Playing against the Williams sisters is a special moment for everybody,” Noskova said.
This has become Serena Williams’ U.S. Open, dominated by the thought this is almost certainly her final competition. Fans’ outpouring of love for her has been touching, and well deserved. She didn’t simply entertain or thrill: she changed expectations and elevated dreams as a Black woman who succeeded in the largely white tennis world. The extent of her impact becomes clear when her peers talk about her — and not just her rivals on the women’s tour.
“It’s completely her tournament, in my opinion. That’s great,” defending men’s champion and No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev said late Wednesday after his 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Arthur Rinderknech. “We have [Rafael Nadal] playing here with 22 Slams, and at this moment it feels like it’s not the attention all to him.”
Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, the 19-year-old prodigy who’s seeded No. 3, has been cited as an inspiration by several female players. Asked if any female players had been role models for him, he didn’t hesitate.
“Serena inspire me a lot,” he said after his 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 elimination of Federico Coria on Thursday. “Last match [Wednesday] was amazing, and of course during her career inspire me, and a lot of players, you know.”
Complete coverage from the Los Angeles Times of what could be the final Grand Slam of Serena Williams’ prolific career at the 2022 U.S. Open.
No. 1 women’s seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who made the most of her first career match at Arthur Ashe Stadium by demolishing 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday, doesn’t mind being overshadowed here by Williams.
“Serena totally deserves it, and it’s pretty obvious for me that she’s going to be in the spotlight in this tournament. Yeah, that’s kind of her time right now,” Swiatek said.
Roger Federer, absent while recovering from knee surgery, wished Serena well in a video posted on social media. “I wanted to congratulate you for a most incredible career,” he said. “I wish all the best with your family, all the best to your fans, who I’m sure are going to miss you very dearly — and I’m one of them.”
The sisters’ departure for the last time as a doubles team was inexplicably sad. But it was still a great gift, a reminder that it’s possible to make so much out of so little and change the world in ways they could never have imagined.
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