Venus beats kid sister for U.S. Open crown

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2001

NEW YORK -- Venus Williams loves her kid sister and told her so, right after giving her a very public spanking in a match that was far more historic than dramatic.

Venus won her second consecutive U.S. Open title by beating the more erratic Serena 6-2, 6-4 Saturday night in the first Grand Slam final between siblings in 117 years and the first women's final televised in prime time.

Family ties tempered Venus' joy.

''There have been some good things and bad things,'' she said during the trophy ceremony. ''I always like to win. But I'm the big sister. I want to make sure she has everything, even if I don't have anything. It's hard. I love her too much. That's what counts.''

At which point Serena, tears welling in her eyes, said, ''Stop!''

''For the younger sisters, we always look up to the older sisters,'' the 19-year-old said, ''because they're always ahead of us and they always win.''

Venus, 15 months older, won for the fifth time in six sibling matchups, including both previous Grand Slam encounters -- the 2000 Wimbledon semifinal and the opening round at the 1998 Australian Open.

''I'm disappointed but only a little, because Venus won,'' Serena said.

It lasted just 69 minutes. The sloppy quality of play was similar to their other meetings, with both spraying shots and neither displaying their full array of overpowering strokes that often overwhelm other top players. Missing was the flair that helped the Williamses eliminate Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals.

Such shaky play has raised suspicions in the past that their father and coach, Richard, might be telling which daughter to win. But a better explanation simply may be the complex psychology of the occasion. The match was the 10th between sisters in a Grand Slam match during the Open era, with the older sister winning every time.

Venus had 19 unforced errors, not including the shot she whiffed on a ball that landed long anyway, and Serena had 36. There were seven service breaks, unusual for players with such dominant serves, and little sense of momentum in the second set.

But there were some dazzling exchanges as both players swung from the heels, putting all their strength into every stroke and grunting as though fighting over a toy.

Then it was all quickly forgotten as they somberly met at the net and embraced.

''I love you,'' Venus said.

It was the family's third consecutive Open title. Serena became the first Williams to win a major championship two years ago, and Venus won last year.

''If I was the younger sister, maybe I'd feel more joyful,'' Venus said. ''I don't exactly feel like I've won. If I was playing a different opponent, I'd probably be a lot more joyful, but I'm happy to have won the U.S. Open again.''

On Sunday, a rejuvenated Pete Sampras will bid to extend his record of 13 major titles against first-time Grand Slam finalist Lleyton Hewitt.

Sampras avenged a loss in last year's final by beating Marat Safin 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3. Hewitt won the most one-sided men's semifinal in Open history, drubbing Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.

Williams vs. Williams attracted a capacity crowd of 23,023 generously sprinkled with rappers, actors, former tennis stars and other celebrities.

''I wouldn't have missed it either if I knew something so historical was going to happen,'' Serena said. ''I guess a lot of people want to watch us.''

Nowhere to be seen was the father of the finalists, who groomed his two daughters from an early age to become Grand Slam champions. Richard Williams booked a mid-afternoon flight Saturday home to Florida because he said he couldn't bear to watch one of them beat the other.

''You guys have a good time,'' he told them as he climbed into a car headed for the airport. ''Win one for me.''

The sisters practiced together Saturday morning, as they've done so often since they started playing tennis as inner-city grade-schoolers on the crumbling courts of Compton, Calif. They walked onto the stadium court side by side at 8:17 p.m., smiling and carrying matching floral bouquets. They were greeted with a standing ovation that was respectful in tone, as though in tribute to heads of state.

Diana Ross sang ''God Bless America'' and fireworks exploded, to the delight of both players. Billie Jean King conducted the coin toss, which Serena won.

Then the real fireworks began. Serena came out smoking, hitting two winners in the early going and reaching a break point, which she failed to convert.

Venus then began to take charge. She won the fourth game by smacking four consecutive service winners, the last of which -- at 109 mph -- knocked the racket from Serena's hand.

A sizzling return gave Venus the first break for a 3-2 lead, she broke again for 5-2 when Serena double faulted, and the first set was over in just 28 minutes.

Although the crowd's allegiance was evenly divided -- ''Go sister!'' one woman shouted -- the fans wanted a comeback. But Venus won the first five points of the second set and took a 2-0 lead when Serena hit yet another wild forehand. Serena shook her head and grinned wryly, and her mother, Oracene, buried her head in her hand.

''I was hoping Serena would win the second set for a little competition,'' Mom said. ''It was not her best. I think she wasn't as focused. It's a sibling thing, and it always has been.''

Serena rallied to reach 2-2, then lost her serve again, squealing as her backhand sailed long on break point.

Two more breaks in a row made it 3-3, before Venus hit a return winner to break again for a 5-4 lead. On the first match point Serena dumped a backhand into the net, then flung her racket before walking to the net for a hug from her big sister.

Serena's other consolation was a $425,000 paycheck. Venus earned $850,000.

''If you're not a competitor, you've just got to go home,'' Venus said. ''We both understand that.''

How did Mom feel about the result?

''Historical. One-word answer,'' Oracene Williams said. ''Historical feeling. It was something they have achieved through a lifetime of work.''

It was the first major final between siblings since vicar's daughter Maud Watson beat her younger sister Lillian for the inaugural Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1884.

Venus strengthened her claim as the game's best player, even though the increasingly dubious WTA rankings will keep Hingis No. 1 next week. Venus has won four of the past six majors, including back-to-back titles at the Open and Wimbledon.

And for the second consecutive year, she's dominating the second half of the year. In 2000 Williams began a 35-match winning streak at Wimbledon. This year she's 20-1 since a first-round upset loss at the French Open in May.

Overshadowed by the all-in-the-family aspect was the cultural milestone the match represented. In a stadium named after the late Arthur Ashe, a barrier-breaking black athlete, two African Americans played in a Grand Slam singles final for the first time.

They just happened to be sisters.

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