- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

NEW YORK When tennis opponents meet at the net for the standard post-match handshake, the routine seldom varies.

There's a quick, half-hearted smile. Some cursory words. And a tepid, vanilla meeting of the hands that's more brush than grasp.

Last night, however, Venus and Serena Williams did things their way.

They embraced.

In a historic, prime-time clash between the first siblings of women's tennis, Venus Williams captured the U.S. Open title, defeating little sister Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 before 23,023 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"You know, there's some good things and some bad things," Venus said in the moments following her victory. "I always want Serena to win. It's kind of strange. As the big sister, I always take care of little sister. I love her. It's hard."

With the victory, Venus, 21, claimed her second straight U.S. Open championship, the fourth Grand Slam of her career; in defeat, Serena, 19, failed to add her to lone major, a win at the 1999 U.S. Open. Yet in the aftermath, winning and losing were trumped by a hug, a coda in the making for nearly two decades.

As little girls on the inner-city courts of Compton, Calif., the sisters dreamed of sharing the stage at a major final a vision fostered by their eccentric, Svengali-like father, Richard, who was once ridiculed for predicting his daughters would dominate the sport.

With their mother, Oracene, family members and a bevy of glitterati looking on from the stands Richard said earlier in the day that he would not attend or watch the match, but was rumored to be somewhere in the stadium Venus and Serena emerged from the stadium court tunnel.

Clutching flowers and wearing grins, they were greeted by fireworks, a standing ovation and a prime-time network television audience, the first for a U.S. Open women's final.

Venus stretched, then jogged in place. Serena fidgeted with the plastic wrap around her racket. The sisters met tennis legend Billie Jean King at center court for a coin toss, Serena windmilling imaginary serves, Venus standing still.

"I wasn't nervous," Serena said. "I've been in the final before. The atmosphere and the crowd were great."

Best friends and co-inhabitants of a Florida home, the sisters have taken great pains to avoid meeting on the court, alternating tournaments outside of the Grand Slams. As such, the sisters' previous meetings have been ragged, uncomfortable affairs, rife with tense play and unforced errors.

Last night's match was no different particularly for Serena, who rifled 36 errors to Venus' 19, at one point laughing in embarrassment after an especially errant forehand.

Yet while the match was sloppy, it was anything but somnolent. From the first point won by Serena on a howitzer forehand the sisters showcased the booming serves, muscular groundstrokes and swinging volleys that have carried them to the forefront of the sport.

Venus pounded a 113-mph serve straight into Serena's body, a blast that little sister barely had time to deflect. Serena answered with a 119-mph ace, then a roundhouse forehand winner from just in front of the net. Both players ran, squinted and grunted with abandon.

All told, it was a far cry from March, when the duo was accused of skullduggery after Venus withdrew from a match with Serena in Indian Wells, Calif., citing a disputed knee injury.

"Anyone [who] would have wrote that or said that was very unprofessional," Venus said on Friday, addressing the question of match-fixing. "I take pride in my sport and my performance. I'm just appalled that anyone would hint something like that."

Ultimately, the match came down to service breaks and again, it was little sister on the short end. After posting a perfect first serve percentage in the second set of her semifinal rout of No. 1 seed Martina Hingis, Serena was way off-target, landing just 54 percent of her first serves and yielding five breaks.

Venus earned her first break early, crushing a return winner on second serve to lead 3-2. Two games later, Serena double faulted to surrender a second break. And in the second set, Venus broke Serena three times, the last on a heavy, two-fisted backhand careened down the line.

On match point, Serena dumped her last error of the night into the net, tossing her racket in disgust. Venus walked to net; seconds later, Serena joined her.

Serena patted Venus on the back. Venus whispered to Serena, "I love you." There was no tennis, only sisterhood just as Venus had predicted.

"We'll just keep on keeping on," Venus said Friday, anticipating the scene she and Serena had first imagined so long ago. "In the end, we're taking everything home."

As the duo stood at center court for the awards ceremony, Serena holding the runner-up plate, Venus lifting the championship trophy, that much was obvious, as indisputable as gravity.

Venus smiled. Serena beamed. The match, the court, the stage, the moment. All of it was theirs, and theirs alone.


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