We used to talk about the Williams sisters as a one-headed beast, this monolith that beat up on the field. Even tour administrators talked about “the sisters” and “the Williamses” never bothering to distinguish the two. Venus and Serena were complicit, too. They didn’t seem to mind. Questions directed specifically at Serena elicited a response starting with “Venus and I.” They played doubles with each other (and each other only) and shared a pair of coaches who just so happened to be their parents.
It may have taken a while but, today, does anyone — even the most casual sports fan — confuse the two? Serena is everywhere; Venus is nowhere. Serena recounts her personal life to her 1.75 million twitter followers. Venus (70 percent fewer Twitter followers) had a fiancée a few years ago, yet the next time she addresses the break-up will be the first. It was a year ago that Serena crashed out of the U.S. Open after threatening to choke a lineswoman with a tennis ball. Venus doesn’t even like challenging questionable calls with replay.
Perhaps above all, their tennis achievements stopped becoming comparable. While Serena is assaulting the summit of Mount Tennis, Venus hasn’t won a major outside of Wimbledon in nine — nine! — years. At some point we stopped discussing “Which Williams sister do you think is better?”
So it’s easy forget that the older sister — the real trail blazer who, like so many big siblings, cleared the brush and paved the way for the younger one — can still play this sport. For all the talk of the contenders heading into this event, Venus, despite her third seeding, was seldom in the conversation. Why? She hadn’t played since her loss at Wimbledon. (As if little preparation for match play has ever slowed her.) She’s 30. (Never mind that she’s holding up physically and, thanks to the sparse schedule so many mocked earlier in her career, her tennis odometer is atypical.) She’ll be lost without Serena. (As if.)
Venus, though, can still hit the hell out of a tennis ball. And she can still compete. Tonight she gave a familiar performance, taking out the endearing French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 7-6, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. It was a fun match, filled with shotmaking, contrasting styles and wavering mometum. But ultimately, like so many matches, it was distilled to a few points. See Venus win the tiebreaker. See Venus win a 5-4 game in the second set. See Venus advance.
Until that character trait changes, she’ll be a contender. Even — and especially — when her little sister isn’t around.