The Glorious Autumn of an Inspiring Champion. #Venus— Matt Zemek (@mzemek) September 4, 2015
She is smooth yet powerful. Athletic yet graceful. She's confident which some have confused with arrogance. Her play on the court speaks volumes.
A dignified champion.
If the words remind you of a tennis star named Williams, you would be half-right. While the sports world is focused on Serena in her quest for the calendar-year Grand Slam, it is her older sister, Venus, who is making waves during this U.S. Open.
Venus – she of seven Grand Slam titles – is making a run at history. History of her own. Going for her first title in seven years. A title she hasn't won since 2001. History of another sort too – becoming an obstacle to history.
Venus and Serena. Forever linked by blood and sport.
Ever since they arrived at the pro level, you couldn't mention one name without the other, but it was always the elder sister's name that came first.
Older by 15 months, Venus was the one to blaze the trail – or so it seemed - until Serena won a Grand Slam title first in 1999. They were sisters, close as can be yet so very different. Long, lanky and athletic versus strong, powerful and athletic. Reserved versus demonstrative. Stoic versus impassioned.
There was always something different about Venus. Their father, Richard Williams, always said Serena would be the better of the two. He told them both they would be great, but Serena would be the best.
Venus always had other interests. She had a mind for both tennis and business as well, the business of fashion and design. Founder of not one, but two companies, Venus is not one to stand idly when there is business to be done. This despite battling autoimmune disease Sjogren's, with one of the major symptoms being that of fatigue.
After being diagnosed in 2011, it came as a relief to Venus. As Serena told the New York Times in 2011, “I think she's really happy now that she knows what it is after all this time.”
Knowledge is power. Frustrated at not knowing what was happening with her body for so long, the diagnosis was an end to a roller coaster of emotions and physical challenges. Venus has the knowledge now to manage her disease, for which there is no known cure. She is also at a point to where she has two successful businesses, another degree (she added a business degree this summer to go along with her fashion degree) and playing some of her best tennis in years.
Knowledge is power and no one knows Serena better than Venus.
Serena is (arguably) this generation's greatest athlete and we are in the midst of witnessing history. While Decathlete Ashton Eaton might have something to say about that, the most well-known, discussed and debated, accomplished and cherished athlete right now is Serena. Accomplished globally on clay, grass and the hard court, Serena is always focused on one goal: winning.
21 Grand Slam titles. 21 Grand Slam titles have been won by Serena, 69 titles in all, many of which were earned defeating the likes of Kim Clijsters, Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Justine Henin, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Arantxa Sánchez Vizcario, Maria Sharapova, Jennifer Capriati, Amelie Mauresmo and of course, her sister, Venus. Many of the great names in women's tennis over the past two decades.
Serena has played them all.
Now, in 2015, as she stands on the cusp of history, there are some new names, and one familiar name standing in her way. Petra Kvitova, Viktoria Azarenka, Simona Halep, Sabine Lisicki, Sam Stosur...and Venus.
Women whom Serena has played, defeated and lost to, but none have the success and knowledge of Venus.
The sisters have played each other numerous times under the bright lights of a Grand Slam. Every action, serve, forehand and backhand scrutinized as if it was a national security matter. Unwarranted scrutiny. Would either of them throw the match? Was their father, Richard, telling them who was going to win? Did they (Venus or Serena) hit that backhand long on purpose?
Two siblings. Close in age and heart, growing up together at home and on the courts. Walking synonymously through history. In step. In stride. Until game day.
In the professional ranks, if you play singles, you play the opponent. It matters not who is on the other side of the net. You play to win. Even if that opponent is your sister or your best friend.
You play to win. History be damned. It's all about that match and winning that event.
That match takes place today.
Venus versus Serena. A place in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open is at stake and a place, or potential place, in history for the winner. If Serena wins she will be one step closer to that calendar-year Grand Slam – a feat not accomplished by an American in 62 years (Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly did it 1953). Many Americans who will be watching on Tuesday weren't around to hear about “Little Mo”.
But they recognize the term "Serena Slam."
If Venus wins, she will be the one who stopped Serena. She will be the one who will have prevented the calendar-year Grand Slam. That will be her place in history, disappointing many Americans in the process who root for history. She will be the one that stopped Serena. Imagine the emotions swirling inside of the older Williams' sister.
Regardless of the outcome, one thing will undoubtedly occur for Venus. She will handle it with the dignity and grace her countenance displays both on and off the court. In her post-match interview on Sunday, Venus was as diplomatic as ever, “I feel like that's what we always wanted growing up. To be out there and on the big stage.”
At ages 35 and 33, respectively, Venus and Serena will “duke it out” one more time on that big stage. Regardless of what happens, “a Williams will be in the semis”, as Serena put it. Winning is the focus for both sisters. “She is going into this match with as much confidence and belief as she's had in a long time,” adds Serena. “She wants to win this and so do I.”
Champions and Sisters.
In careers spanning nearly two decades, the sisters have answered their critics both on and off the court. No, they are not perfect and should not be viewed as such. As others have done before them, they have blazed a trail for others to follow, a trail that has been full of scrutiny unparalleled in tennis' long history.
What will history say about Venus and Serena Williams in 10, 20 or 50 years?
They were champions, but first they were sisters.
The greatest sibling duo of our generation – the Williams sisters.