Wednesday, July 30
It's a challenge being a Williams

ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Until yesterday, Venus Williams looked like the sister to beat in Saturday's final. All the questions about her game were answered as confidence once again sprouted on grass.

But just as quickly as it came ... it went.

Venus and Serena Williams
Venus and Serena Williams are more comfortable being on the same side of the court than on opposite sides of the net.

Injury stole Venus' edge as she aggravated an abdominal muscle tear in her emotional semifinal win over Kim Clijsters. And although she said afterwards that she planned to hit a few balls Friday, Venus skipped her scheduled practice on the eve of her Wimbledon final match against younger sister Serena.

"I've had treatment with my trainer (Kerrie Brooks) at home, and I'm feeling better," Venus said in a statement released through the WTA.

Serena practiced earlier. No more joint practices at this point.

For the past six Grand Slam tournaments, it's been the younger sister who looked tough out there. Showed desire. Fought with passion. But in the semifinals, Venus showed that she wants it enough to play through pain. Wants it enough not to give up.

"As a rule," Venus said afterward, "I never play with pain. I generally retire immediately. I've never been taught to play with pain. My parents always told us to put the racket in the bag, go off the court.

"I just felt this time -- I just wanted to win, basically."

She hasn't won a major title since the 2001 U.S. Open, losing four of the past five Grand Slam tournament finals to her little sister.

The question has come up whether she needs a new coach -- one who isn't a parent, one who can give her undivided attention. Serena dismissed the idea that they should train separately.

"As far as separate and get a different coach, I wouldn't change anything that's been working," Serena said. "I think in this tournament Venus has been playing the best. I've watched her match and I've had to raise my level of play to be able to, I think, compete with her."

It's how it always used to be.

Venus doing something first and Serena answering the challenge. It was Venus who reminded her sister to curtsey after winning the title here last year. It was Venus who told Serena how to defend a title -- to think of it as only winning another major final and not a defense.

But now that the little sister is the No. 1 player in the world, is the big sister learning anything from Serena? Venus didn't exactly say she has.

"Serena just always had the better shot last year, no matter who she was playing," Venus said. "She always had the right answer. She definitely was very motivated to do well and to win, and that's really what it takes."

Venus' motivation has come into question -- a lot -- but more than anything, she wants tennis to be fun again.

"I think the important thing is, for sure, to enjoy it more, to enjoy the tennis more," she said earlier this week. "If it comes to be something about winning and that kind of thing, I don't think it works out well. For myself, if I'm enjoying the tennis and of course winning at the same time, it's a perfect combination."

In the semifinals, though, she learned she could win even when it wasn't fun. She could win when tennis was a pain, not a joy. That might just be the key for her future.

"After a while, I decided, you know, 'If I'm gonna be out here, I'm gonna still serve big,'" Venus said. "At times I did serve slower than I usually do, but I really wanted to just do everything I could do at that point."

It will be even more difficult to play Serena with an injury. Not to mention the respect Serena gives Venus. Serena plans to bring her best in order to successfully defend a major title for the first time.

"She's played extremely well throughout the two weeks," Serena said. "If I'm going to beat Venus tomorrow, I'm going to have to serve and return really well and get as many balls back as possible because Venus runs a lot of balls down. I can't afford to be 70-80 percent. If I'm not 100 percent, it is going to be hard for me to win."

Even if both players are feeling their best, there are still the intangibles of facing your sister across the net.

"It's not easy for me to play someone I care so much about," Serena said.

For something they both want so much.

"It will be great to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time," Serena said. "I've always loved to make history and I want to be among the few people who have achieved this feat."

"It would be a very special feeling," Venus said, "to hold that trophy again because Wimbledon is very dear to me. It's a special place. It's where I won my first Grand Slam and I admire the history and the tradition of The Championships."

More history awaits.

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.