By Ros Satar, in Indian Wells

  • Venus Williams [8] def. Serena Williams 6-3 6-4
  • Next stop Miami for Serena
INDIAN WELLS, USA –  Venus Williams beat sister Serena Williams for the first time since 2014 halting her tour comeback in their first Indian Wells match-up since controversy flared up around them.

 

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There was a lot more than a spot in the foruth round of he BNP Paribas fourth round at stake on Monday night as the much anticipated 29th encounter between the Williams sisters.

Serena Williams, making her tour comeback after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia, and the health issues that surrounded that. Setting aside the extremely rusty encounter as an exhibition (within an exhibition!) at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, and Tie-Break Tens in New York, it was back to business.

The change has been remarkable in the two matches – As Serena walked out in her first round match, her headphones were around her neck and she beamed and smiled as she was roared back onto court. It was a little more business-like in her second round match, but walking out onto court to meet sister Venus, it was as if she had never been away.

 

The History

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Lest we forget, the self-styled Tennis Paradise was where the sisters were due to face each other in the semi-final. However, minutes before the match, Venus withdrew citing tendonitis. It came on the back of comments in press made by Elena Dementieva that Richard Williams determined the outcome of their encounters, denied by both players.

As Venus and Richard Williams took their seats for the final, the crowd started to boo, resulting in Richard Williams shaking his fist as an act of defiance, while Venus kept her head low. The crowd’s reaction to a 19-year-old Serena Williams playing in the final against Kim Clijsters had been just as hostile.

After the fact, Richard Williams stated he and Venus had been the target of racial abuse as they took their seats that day although the tournament maintain that no complain of racial abuse had ever been lodged with them.

For a period of 14 years, and despite the fact that the tournament becoming a Premier Mandatory tournament that all eligible players were required to enter, neither Serena or Venus appeared at the event until Serena made her comeback in 2015. Venus returned in 2016.

 

By The Numbers

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  • Serena Williams is 17-11 over her sister in their head to heads – 10-5 at Grand Slams and 7-6 on the tour.
  • This is their first meeting since the 2017 Australian Open final, and their first non-Grand Slam match-up since 2014 Montreal (won by Venus Williams)
  • This is their first actual meeting at Indian Wells.
  • Serena has beaten Venus eight out of the last nine meetings.
  • Serena leads 7-4 in three set matches.
  • Serena leads 9-5 in tie-breaks (three were third set tie-breaks)

 

The Match

The change has been remarkable in the two matches – As Serena walked out in her first round match, her headphones were around her neck and she beamed and smiled as she was roared back onto court. It was a little more business-like in her second round match, but walking out onto court to meet sister Venus, it was as if she had never been away.

There were early points of pressure in the first few exchanges – two break points for Serena in the first three games, three for Venus before the elder Williams broke for a lead. She did not relinquish that margin, serving out to love while Serena tried to keep her intensity in balance with a desire to push for the winner.

Serena Williams in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018

Serena Williams in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018 | (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

As Serena herself had noted – shots she could normally be relied upon to lock in were still a little wild and woolly at times. Venus, at least towards the end of the year, was at hr resurgent finest, and her early part of this year had not been impressive at all – with opening round losses in both Sydney and the Australian Open, and no matches until now.

She had been pushed in her two matches but had not dropped a set until now. Broken in the first game of the second set, we were being treated to some phenomenal athleticism from both players as Venus consolidated her early break and Serena was giving in to a raft of unforced errors.

Venus Williams in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018

Venus Williams in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018 | (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

By now Venus was commanding the stage – her ability to dictate from the baseline combined with Serena still trying to establish her previous fleetness of foot, made for a 3-0 lead for Venus and perhaps a feeling of inevitability that the fairytale comeback for Serena was going to fall short.

We should know better than to write Serena off – a breath-taking rally with drop-shots cutting like a knife put Williams the younger suddenly on the attack as she broke to retrieve one of the breaks, and the previous previous blistering return that for so long tormented her opponents in her prime ripped past her sister unforgivingly.

On the board, she consolidated the break to keep within touching distance. Venus just kept the pressure on, breaking for a third time to serve for the match. Serena just looked to be over-reaching, while Venus chased her ball-toss a couple of times to add to the tension, throwing in a double fault. Match-point came at the hands of another return floated long, saved by a blistering winner with gofted errors from Venus giving Serena a second break.

Attempting to serve it out for the second time… twice in a row Venus netted forehands that by rights should have screamed winners. But at the second time of asking – Williams got over the line for an historic victory and just her second win in the last 10 attempts.

 

The Reaction

Serena William in post-match press after the third round of the BNP Paripas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018

Serena William in post-match press after the third round of the BNP Paripas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018 | (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

After her first match, Serena joked: “I was thinking from zero to Serena, I’m probably at the ‘s’ (laughs).”

So when asked whether she had advanced a lttle further up the alphabet, she replied: Not quite. I mean, just missing shots that I never miss, and so close. At least they’re in the margin. You know, I’m getting there. It’s not exactly where I want to be, but, I mean, I’ll get there eventually. No, I’m definitely at the S (smiling).”

The irony is, while Venus finally has a back to back wins now this year, and follows on from a year that saw her make the final of the WTA season-ending finale, tonight still feels all about Serena, and the promise we can hopefully look forward to.

“I think I’m going tournament by tournament. I’m definitely not thinking too far in the future. Ready for the next tournament. I’ll get ready for that. I have a lot to improve on. You know, it’s good that I don’t have to say that this is the best tennis I have ever played and I lost. My room for improvement is incredible.

So I have just got to keep saying each tournament my goal is just to be better than the last, and I definitely don’t want to go backwards. I just want to continue to go forwards. I think as long as I can do that, I will keep getting better.”

Venus Williams will play Anastasija Sevastova on Tuesday.

 

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