Sport’s most enduring sibling rivalry will be played out on US Independence Day after Venus Williams exacted brutal revenge and Serena Williams displayed raw desire to inflict a double defeat on Russia at Wimbledon.
The American sisters will be setting off fireworks on women’s final day for the second year running at the All England Club, but on Thursday Serena came within a heartbeat of missing out on the Fourth of July celebrations.
At 4-5, 30-40 down in the deciding set, Serena was staring defeat head on as Elena Dementieva stood one point away from reaching her first Wimbledon final.
Instead, a split second’s hesitation by the Russian allowed Serena to hit a wobbly backhand volley off the tape and the American snatched her get-out-of-jail free card to crawl over the finishing line with a 6-7, 7-5, 8-6 win over the fourth seed.
Clocking in at two hours and 50 minutes, it was the longest women’s semi-final match at Wimbledon since records started being kept in 1969.
“It’s definitely one of my more dramatic victories. I felt like I was down pretty much the whole match. To come out on top was, you know, a great feeling. I wanted to win really bad,” Serena told reporters.
While little sister Serena had to fight tooth-and-nail to survive a match that showed off everything that is good about women’s tennis, Venus proved that there is still a gulf between her and the rest of the women’s field at Wimbledon when she walloped clueless top seed Dinara Safina 6-1, 6-0.
Safina’s ranking as world No. 1 looked like a statistical error as she suffered the ignominy of suffering the most lopsided semi-final defeat since Billie Jean King beat Rosie Casals by the same score 40 years ago.
The Russian sprayed errors long and wide to fold in just 51 minutes.
Grilled about whether she deserves the top ranking after her outing, Safina could only say: “It’s definitely disappointing, finishing the match less than one hour and winning only one game ... I have to swallow this defeat but it’s not the end of the world.”
A backhand service return into the net not only ended Safina’s ordeal but also handed Venus her 35th consecutive set at Wimbledon as she set up the dream final everyone had expected long before a ball had been hit at this year’s championships.
Venus, who was beaten by Safina when they met in the Italian Open semi-finals just two months ago, was delighted that the sisters were back where they belonged.
“I’m happy for Serena to be in the final but I have to face her and defeat her. I don’t necessarily want her to lose, but for sure I want me to win,” said Venus, chasing a hat-trick of Wimbledon singles titles, and her sixth overall. “I don’t like to ever see her disappointed in any way. But at the same time, I don’t want to see myself disappointed.”
“But if she didn’t win [her semi-final] or if I didn’t win, then the dream doesn’t come true that we’re both playing in the final. So I definitely want to play against her, because the dream has come true for both of us and for our family, too,” she said.
While Venus kept that dream alive by stroking winners with the relaxed air of a woman on a sun-lounger sipping a pina colada, Serena could not believe what had hit her.
In a match featuring sinew-stretching rallies, crafty angles and thundering serves, Dementieva completely neutralized Serena’s power game to take the first set.