November 24, 2014

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Williams sisters rising again?

Howard Fendrich
The Associated Press
WIMBLEDON, England — Not all that long ago, the run-up to any Grand Slam tournament would be filled with talk about whether Venus and Serena Williams would meet in yet another all-in-the-family final.
It was pretty much a given that at least one Williams, if not both, would be out there on court for the championship match, smacking speedy serves, swatting powerful groundstrokes and racing along the baseline to reach seemingly unreachable balls.
During a seven-Slam stretch from Wimbledon in 2001 to the Australian Open in 2003, one Williams or the other won every title. And a Williams was the runner-up at five of those majors.
Don’t look now, but those days could be back.
The way Venus Williams won Wimbledon on Saturday, and the way Serena Williams won the Australian Open in January, sends quite a message to the rest of women’s tennis — one that the older sibling succinctly put into words.
“My sixth Slam,” Venus said, smiling. “I want some more.”
Her six major titles are tied for second most among active players. The leader? Her sister, of course, with eight.
“When it comes to Wimbledon, I do have more,” Venus said, noting her 4-2 edge on Serena at the All England Club.
Venus is now 27, Serena 25, and they were the oldest of the Wimbledon quarterfinalists this year, a group that included three teenagers. Still, there’s something to be said for experience in tight matches on the sport’s biggest stages, and no one has as much as the Williams clan.
Another factor that could work in their favor as the years progress: Neither has as much wear-and-tear as most players their age do.
There are several reasons. One is that their father and coach, Richard Williams, didn’t let them compete a lot when they were kids, limiting them to a tournament or two a season when they were in their early teens.
Even once they were established on the pro circuit, the sisters gained a reputation for picking and choosing which tournaments to enter, something that rankled some players. And in recent years, both have missed months at a time with various injuries.
That’s why their father spoke during this tournament about Venus playing into her 30s. It’s why her boyfriend, professional golfer Hank Kuehne, thinks she has plenty of excellence left.
“Most women in their mid-20s are winding it down. She has awhile to go,” Kuehne said. “As far as I know, she could be like Roger Clemens.”
Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration.
All of that time away from the tour in recent times is what dropped both sisters way down in the rankings, nowhere near the No. 1 spot each once held. Serena tumbled out of the top 100, and was at No. 81 entering this year’s Australian Open.
Venus was at No. 31 before Wimbledon and became the tournament’s lowest-ranked champion with her 6-4, 6-1 victory over Marion Bartoli in the final.
“It’s not necessarily a competition. But we motivate each other to get more,” Venus said. “When she sees me win here, she’s just going to go for it. When I saw her win in Australia, I knew I could do it. We just love each other and inspire each other like that.”
When the new rankings are issued today, Venus Williams will rise to No. 17, her first time in the top 20 in exactly a year. Serena Williams will move up to No. 7.
As players like Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic — all among the top five and all losers to Venus Williams at this Wimbledon — can attest, the rankings are still somewhat misleading.
So no matter what the computer spits out in late August, don’t be surprised if there’s at least one Williams playing when the U.S. Open final comes around.
“Growing up, we dreamed of that, of us being on top of women’s tennis, of playing Slam finals, being (ranked) 1 and 2. That’s what we worked for,” Venus said. “So when that happens, it’s incredible. It’s amazing. For us, there’s no doubt that we can achieve these things.”
Contact Howard Fendrich at hfendrich@ap.org.