CHARLESTON, S.C. — In the most lopsided scoreline of their 24 career encounters, Serena Williams bested older sister Venus in the semifinals of the Family Circle Cup, winning 6-2, 6-1 to advance to her third straight final of the season. She’ll face off Sunday against a resurgent Jelena Jankovic, who defeated surprise Swiss semifinalist Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 to make her second final here in Charleston.
The first semifinal between Venus and Serena—which helped draw over 9,400 fans, the largest attendance of any session in the history of the tournament—fell flat of the hype, as the match was one-way traffic for Serena. The two haven’t faced each other since the WTA Championships in 2009, and the match was a microcosm of where they are in their respective careers. Serena is the No. 1 player in the world and coming off a big title at the Sony Open last week. Venus, on the other hand, is still dealing with health and injury issues that stem from Sjogren’s syndrome, which haven’t allowed her to train and prepare for tournaments as well as she’d like.
“I mean, she’ll never admit it, ever, but I don’t think she was 100 percent,” Serena said. Due to rain delays, both she and and Venus had to play two matches on Friday to make the semifinals. That’s a tough ask physically for anyone, but even more diffficult for Venus, who came into the tournament with joint inflammation in her back.
Venus refused to use the schedule as an excuse. “I played under the same circumstances as everyone else. So it has to be an even playing field here, and that’s what it was.”
It may have been an even playing field for the top half of the draw, all of whom were forced to pull double-duty to get the rain-addled schedule back on track, but with her illness and injuries, it’s tougher for Venus to adjust. “Quite frankly, three matches for her is much tougher than three matches for me,” Serena said. “And so you know, it’s definitely not easy, because I’m struggling, and I can’t imagine what she must be feeling.”
Despite the lopsided loss, it was a very successful week for Venus, who made her second semifinal of the year, beating two young talents in 18-year old Madison Keys and 19-year old Monica Puig, as well as Varvara Lepchenko, a crafty clay-court player, all while playing with a compromised back. Those tough matches have given her something to build on. “This week I had a lot of situations that I need to be in,” Venus said, “like playing 4-4 games, and sometimes I would lose a set, but it was good for me to be able to play and just get in those situations and come through. So I need more of that.”
Looking forward to Serena’s next match against Jankovic, Venus recognized the Serb’s history of playing them tough. Jankovic’s counterpunching prowess has given her a 6-6 record against Venus and a 4-5 record against Serena. Though Serena won their last meeting at the London Olympics easily, 6-3, 6-1, Jankovic won their last meeting on clay, winning 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in Rome in 2010. Jankovic’s consistency has driven them crazy over the years. “I mean, when she was at the top of her game, every ball landed in, and when she mis-hit it, it was still a winner, so it was a challenge to compete against her because she could do no wrong,” Venus said.
“I’ll be ready for her,” Serena said. “She’s been playing well, I think, the past month. She’s been really consistent. So I’ll have my work cut out for me. It’ll be interesting.”
Here are some highlights from their last clay encounter in Rome 2010. Jankovic actually beat both Venus and Serena in back-to-back matches in the span of 24 hours during that tournament:
Jankovic relishes the challenge of playing Serena. She’ll have to serve well and make her returns in order to get into the rally where she can use her movement and consistency to make Serena hit the extra ball. While she has the utmost respect for Serena, she says the secret to her success isn’t a secret at all. It’s about being fearless.
“There is no really secret,” Jankovic said. “You have to believe you can win. It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net. You’ve gotta go there thinking you are the better player and that you can win that match. Otherwise you have no chance.”
The final will air on ESPN2 at 1:00pm ET.