MONTREAL – Saturday, for the first time in more than five years, Venus Williams defeated sister Serena.
That’s not quite as mind-blowing as it sounds for, as Venus pointed out after the tense 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 victory at the Rogers Cup that put her in Sunday’s final, it’s not as though they’ve been running into each other on a regular basis lately.
This was only their second meeting since early 2009.
But on this occasion, Venus turned back the clock for a third consecutive match against a quality opponent this week. Conversely, Serena wasn’t exactly, for whatever reason, in peak form.
She served well – 12 aces in the first set alone, 19 in all. But she balanced that with nine double faults, many of them in tight situations that resulted in break point opportunities.
“I don't know. I just hit so many double-faults this whole week. Yeah, I have to really cut back on that if I want to do some winning here. Not here, obviously. I lost. But in general,” she said. “I don't think I played a great game today. Let's just face it. I served well in the first set, but that was that. So I definitely need to go back and analyze it, figure out how to be more consistent, how to play more consistent on a more consistent level.”
There were just too many errors even if the stats didn’t necessarily reflect their consequences. Serena's feet weren’t moving. At times she looked lethargic, then at other times she couldn’t get back to the service line fast enough to start the next point – even if sister Venus was nowhere near ready to receive.
“It was just off, whatever. I think Venus played a great match. It was what it was,” Serena added.
Venus, who had the tougher road to the semis of the two, was just the opposite. She came out from the very first point looking much fresher than she likely felt. She looked engaged, and eager, and as keen as she was in her younger, best days. That effort level, that energy level, never flagged.
Now, the key for the 34-year-old American is to not waste a golden opportunity to win a Premier-level event. She will play the winner of No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and unseeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who play Saturday evening.
Assuming Venus pulls up well on Sunday and has the energy required, a victory against either of the two is entirely doable on current form.
And in the end, the No. 1 player in the world no longer stands in the way of a title, and Venus didn’t disagree with the notion that there might be a little additional pressure to win a tournament once her sister is out of it.
“Maybe in some ways because it feels like she would have won, so why shouldn't I? Or why would I just ruin it for someone else just so I could not win?” Williams said. “Those are definitely thoughts that go through your head. But in the end you have to focus on one match at a time. If you can sleep at night knowing you tried your best, even if you didn't win, then that's enough.”
Serena had a very quiet match - there was nothing of the way she can be when she finds herself down and nearly out and starts scratching and clawing and screaming and "C'MAAAAAAAAANNNNNN"ing her way back into it. There wasn't even much grunting; her sister won that battle going away.
Perhaps the little sister was saving the best of her fight for the bigger prize a few weeks down the road. In the meantime, though, there hasn't been a prize this big on the horizon for big sister Venus in a long time.
Venus has won six tournaments since capturing the WTA Tour year-end championships in 2008, with chunks of that time spent off the Tour and other periods when she wasn't feeling in tip-top shape as she battles an auto-immune disease called Sjogren's.
That is not a long list, nor is it an elite-level list, to be sure: Acapulco (twice), Dubai (three times) and Luxembourg (once).
Venus defeated Alizé Cornet of France to win in Dubai last February after a 16-month title drought, after Cornet upset sister Venus earlier in the tournament.
Dubai is a Premier-level event with a lot of prize money, but it has a smaller draw and not nearly the same cachet – although it does offer great deals on duty-free.
None of those events come close to the calibre of the Rogers Cup, which is a Premier-level event with a 56-player draw that the all the top players in the world are generally mandated to play.
It would be a big win, and it would make a solid statement ahead of the U.S. Open later this month.
“It would mean a lot to me because I've been dreaming of winning a tournament at this level since I got back on tour,” Venus said. “You try and you try and you try. There are disappointments. One day you get a little closer. So this is my ‘little closer' right now. By all means, I definitely want to keep getting to this area where you're getting closer to the winner's circle.”