Venus-Serena even less dramatic than usual
Venus-Serena XIV was even more devoid of drama than nearly all of its predecessors -- and that's saying something. Venus evened the career series at seven each, and at the end, Serena was generally frustrated, flat-footed and clearly favoring her left leg.
NEW YORK -- There was lots of shrieking, of course, but Venus-Serena XIV was even more devoid of drama than nearly all of its predecessors -- and that's saying something.AP Photo/Julie JacobsonSerena has played just 27 matches this year because of her surgically repaired left knee and ankle.
Venus, at 25 two years older than her sister, evened the career series at seven each with an awkward and rhythmless 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory on Sunday. At the end, Serena was generally frustrated, flat-footed and clearly favoring her left leg.
There was a point in the seventh game of the second set that underscored the issue: Instead of stepping into an eminently makeable forehand volley, Serena's feet stayed put and she reached for the ball. It dribbled toward the net and she fell backward, right onto her substantial behind and emitted a horrible, plaintive wail. She feigned throwing her racket, fully aware that the match was over.
So, how did this compare to previous matches with her sister?
Serena rolled her eyes at the obvious question. Later, she allowed, "I don't think I played my best today at all. I don't think Venus did, either. We were talking in the locker room, just how horrible we played. I said, 'You played terrible.' She was like, 'I know.' I said, 'I played much better against [Francesca] Schiavone.' She said, 'Yeah, you did.'"
"I had some bad patches," Venus said. "I think Serena had some tough patches, too. It was tough."
Serena's troublesome, surgically repaired left knee and left ankle, which have been big factors in limiting her to only 27 matches this year, seemed to bother her more and more as the match wore on. Two weeks ago in Toronto, she struggled to win her first-round match with Stephanie Cohen-Aloro and withdrew before the second round, complaining of an ankle injury.
"I've just been training on it and trying to get it better, trying to just strengthen it," Serena said. "I was just having problems at the end because I was moving a lot and stopping a lot.
"It always gives me a little trouble after a certain period of time," Serena said.
"She was having to limit what she could do and just be realistic," Venus said. "It's hard these days, it really is. I've had more opportunity to practice and train than she has, so I think that gave me the edge."
Six of their previous 13 matches were the finals of Grand Slams, including four in a row -- the 2002 French Open through the 2003 Australian Open. But injuries and their many priorities have conspired to drop their rankings; Serena was seeded No. 8 and Venus was No. 10. This was the earliest the sisters have played at a Grand Slam since the 1998 Australian Open, when they met in the second round.
Venus, who remained relatively engaged throughout the match, will now play No. 4-seeded Kim Clijsters -- a 6-1, 6-0 winner over Maria Vento-Kabchi Sunday night -- in the quarterfinals.
Afterward, Serena seemed defensive in responding to questions about the less-than-lovely level of play when the sisters meet.
"I disagree 100 percent with that," she said sharply. "We've had some incredibly tough matches.
"Because we play so hard, we hit so many winners, we go for a lot -- it's like a men's game, more or less, when we play each other," she said.
Is it more difficult to get inspired playing against Venus?
"In a later round, obviously, it's easier," Serena said. "I've never played her this early, so it's a little tough.
"Early on, it's kind of very, very weird and awkward, bizarre, to say the least," she said.
Venus also used the word "bizarre."
"We were sad when we heard the draw," Venus said. "I think it was distracting for both of us, to be honest."
Serena actually held a set point, leading 6-5 in the first set on Venus' serve, but squandered that advantage. Distilled, the match came down to the tiebreak. At 5-all, Venus moved her sister off the court dropped a soft backhand volley into the open court. Then, at 6-5, Serena flicked a half-hearted backhand into the net.
Serena never really seemed truly involved after that.
For all the criticism they have endured, the sisters have combined to win 12 Grand Slam titles, seven for Serena and five for Venus. And despite all the focus on their collective lack of focus, they managed to win two of the three previous Grand Slams this year, Serena the Australian Open and Venus -- in memorable, jumping-for-joy fashion -- at Wimbledon. Venus still has a chance to make it three out of four.
After missing two tournaments after Wimbledon, Venus came into the Open with more matches and more momentum than her sister. If form follows, she would see Clijsters and Maria Sharapova in the next two rounds -- an extremely difficult road.
According to Venus, her recent slide down the WTA Tour ranking list will serve as future motivation.
"I'm really dedicated to getting my ranking up," she said. "I feel like, 'Wow, I'm a very good player. There are all these people ranked ahead of me.' After a while, I'm tired of being raked low. I just feel like definitely I'm better than No. 10."
When Serena was asked where she would be playing next, there was a cosmic moment.
"I guess I'm due ... " she said, her voice trailing off.
And then she snapped her head, almost in double-take fashion.
"I can't believe I'm out of the tournament," she said. "It's weird. I guess I'm playing Beijing."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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