Even if Serena Williams had not been going for her record-breaking 23rd title in Open Era Grand Slam tournaments, the plot leading into this year’s Australian Open Women’s Final would have been intriguing.
Facing off against her sister Venus in a Grand Slam tournament final for the first time since Wimbledon in 2009, Serena Williams knew this game was much more than a sibling rivalry, and so did the press.
Media coverage on ESPN volleyed back and forth, like a tennis match itself, with commentators Chris Evert and Chris Fowler shifting between their two talking points of Serena’s possible record, and the person she would have to beat to obtain that record.
Making this match even more awe-inspiring, was the beautiful sunset that blanketed Melbourne as Venus and Serena stepped onto the famous blue hard court of Rod Laver Arena for the first Women’s Singles Grand Slam final of the year.
While most players their age have either retired or declined in performance, Venus (36) and Serena (35) are playing some of the best tennis of their careers.
Many of us, myself included, grew up with our own sibling rivalries, battling against our brothers and sisters for supremacy at football, basketball or who could destroy the other in Madden (Thanks a lot Chelsea!).
But none of that compares to the angst and pressure between professional athletes facing off against each other in a game broadcast on nationwide television. Perhaps only the Manning family truly understood what went through the minds of Venus and Serena on Saturday evening in Australia. The Williams’ older sister, Isha Price, was not even at Rod Laver Arena, choosing instead to watch from a local hotel room.
Rather than subject herself to the live reality of one of her sisters defeating the other, Isha instead sent her well wishes to both sisters after the match. Perhaps this decison was a good one when you consider the home Australian crowd’s clear favoritism.
Serena’s antics at last year’s Australian Open Final versus Angelique Kerber of Germany, including shouting at officials, clearly had the tennis enthusiastic crowd in attendance to favor her sister Venus during the opening sets.
As the first match drew to a close however, the largely Australian crowd packing Rod Laver Arena to the rafters shifted their enthusiastic support behind Serena as well, and with good reason. The younger Williams sister was on the verge of making history as the greatest Open Era female player ever.
Those unlucky enough to secure a ticket inside, ranging anywhere from a couple hundred to $24,000, watched from lawn chairs outside the stadium named for Australia’s greatest male tennis player
In the Open Era, Steffi Graf had won 22 major (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open) titles. With her victory at Wimbledon last year, Serena tied Graf, but failed to make the final at September’s US Open. This marked her first chance to the tie since then.
Sweat poured off both Venus and Serena as they put everything left in the tank after an exhausting two week tournament into this final match. While chasing a Venus volley and slipping on the third point in the first set, Serena got up and smashed her black and lime green Wilson racket in anger before returning to action.
As she clawed her way to championship point, she screamed, “Fight!”
With the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup visible on the sidelines, like a drink of water at the end of a marathon, Venus’ final lob landed out-of-bounds.
An hour and twenty-two minutes after the first serve, Serena dropped to the ground as the new Open Era record holder.Sitting in the audience was Australian tennis great, Margaret Court. Court, the all time Grand Slam tournament winning holder (she won before the Open Era as well) has one more title than Serena. However, with three remaining majors this year, Serena can potentially surpass Court by July with victories at Roland-Garros and The All England Club.
During the trophy presentation, Venus accepted her award and spoke first.“Serena Williams”, she said, “that’s my little sister guys.”
During her own acceptance, Serena, who had given it her all to beat Venus in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, spoke highly of her older sister and role model.
“No way”, Serena said, “no way I am number one without her!”There is no doubt we are living in the golden age of tennis, and the Williams sisters are a large part of the success in Women’s tennis. The two girls from Compton, California, a city that doesn’t inspire much hope and optimism, have inspired thousands of young women to pick up a tennis racket and hit a ball.
As Tweets ran across the screen from other pros, including Canadian Genie Bouchard, the words expressed from these younger stars in tennis revealed that these two sisters were a large part of their success and enthusiasm in the sport.
But to Venus and Serena, it was just another match — their 28th.
As Chris Evert commented during the post-match coverage, “Let’s hope it’s not their last.”