- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

WIMBLEDON, England Now playing at the temple of tennis: Sister Act.

Venus Williams of the United States defeated top-ranked Martina Hingis 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in yesterday's quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and sister Serena beat Lisa Raymond 6-2, 6-0.

Venus and Serena will meet in one of tomorrow's women's singles semifinals, marking the first time in the Open era (since 1968) that sisters have played one another for the right to advance to a Grand Slam final.

"That's how we always visualized it," said Venus, at 20 the older and lesser accomplished of the pair from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "My parents were really positive, and we were always taught to believe we were the best… . We feel we are the best."

The fourth and fifth daughters of Richard and Oracene Williams, originally from Saginaw, Mich., the two sisters first gained acclaim in 1997, when Venus exploded onto the scene in a whirlwind of beaded brilliance by reaching the finals at the U.S. Open before losing to Hingis.

The immense skills of the girls were somewhat unknown until then; Richard had single-handedly steered their teaching and training behind closed doors, holding his daughters out of junior tournaments and sheltering them from an early jump to the professional circuit.

But the world got its first major glimpse of the charismatic twosome at the 1997 Open, Venus galvanizing the crowds in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., with her energy, as Richard and then-15-year-old Serena cheered her on from the stands. In the three years since, Venus has struggled with consistency and injury (still winning nine pro singles titles), while Serena has surged to prominence, claiming six singles titles and the family's first Grand Slam (1999 U.S. Open) over the last 10 months.

Tomorrow, the pair finally will share the Centre Court, representing the future of the women's game.

"I definitely think it would have been more exciting as a final," said Serena after crushing American Raymond 6-2, 6-0 in one of yesterday's quarterfinals. "[But] one Williams will definitely be in the finals for the first time."

Most insiders think that finalist is likely to be 18-year-old Serena, who has lost just 13 games in her first five matches at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Though Venus won the first three meetings between the sisters, Serena took their most recent match, defeating Venus 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 at last year's Compaq Grand Slam Cup.

Venus has the most powerful serve in the women's game (averaging 108 mph at Wimbledon), Serena the second-most powerful. Both hit ground strokes with a pace never before seen in the women's game. But Serena is slightly quicker, and Venus has a punitive penchant for committing an inordinate number of unforced errors.

Yesterday, fifth-seeded Venus made 59 such miscues (against 48 winners) in her quarterfinal match vs. Hingis but still managed to overwhelm her own mistakes and her Swiss nemesis with an unyielding display of power. The same gambling, blast-away approach isn't likely to work against Serena.

"She will definitely have to cut down on her errors to beat Serena, because she's really on right now," said Richard, who still coaches both daughters and was literally dancing in the aisles at Centre Court after Venus edged Hingis. "I'm not sure if I'll even watch."

Asked to give a scouting report on her more gregarious sister, Venus replied: "The biggest challenge is that Serena is extremely powerful, extremely dangerous, and she knows everything I know… . She's really been blazing past her opponents with no mercy. I want to go in with that same attitude."

In typical fashion, eighth-seeded Serena's response to the same question was more outrageous.

"She has a big serve, and, gosh, she's very tall [6-foot-1 to Serena's 5-10]," said Serena. "She's an ace. I'm Mama Smash… . I know for a fact that I'm really there, but so is she. It's like we're really even."

Regardless of the outcome, both sisters agree that a loss in this Slam semifinal will be less crippling than it would if another player was on the other side of the net.

"Tennis is just a game," said Serena. "Family is forever."

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