U.S. Open : Venus versus Serena: Exhibition or competition?

Serena Williams celebrates after beating her older sister, Venus, at the on-going U.S. Open…yesterday. PHOTO: AFP.

Serena Williams celebrates after beating her older sister, Venus, at the on-going U.S. Open…yesterday. PHOTO: AFP.

AFTER Venus defeated Anet Kontaveit, the qualifier from Estonia 6-2; 6-2, and Serena defeated Madison Keys 6-3; 6-4 the elder sister was asked about sibling rivalry and she answered “it’s been awesome. I’m so proud of Serena and I hope she is proud of me. I hope we can play in the quarter-finals.” An hour later, the stage was set for their historic match when Serena defeated fellow American, Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-4.

Immediately after she won, Serena was asked about the up-coming match with her sister. She was diplomatic in saying, “We are a lot older now. At least one of us (Williams) will be in the semi-finals.” The matter of their playing against each other had generated much debate since their encounter in the 2000 the US Open Finals that Venus won. Would spectators turn up to watch two (friendly) sisters competing? At the time, Doug Smith of USAToday newspaper said “The truth is they don’t like playing against each other.” Their parents do not watch matches in which they are battling each other. Why?

Does a player need a tinge of resentment to defeat an opponent? The great Muhammad Ali, a philosopher of note, explained it thus. “Heavyweights are loners, Dinosaurs don’t mix.” After his Boxing License was restored and he was preparing for a fight against Walt Frazier, the two (friends) were spotted at a Toll Plaza in a car being driven by Frazier. The attendant uttered his amazement “You two guys are buddies? Alli and Frazier?” They realized that when the news spread that they were indeed close friends, no one would pay to watch their up-coming fight. They then decided to put on a show in Philadelphia; saying they could not wait for the D-Day. It was mere media hype to drum up support for their fight in Madison Square Gardens, won by a Frazier knockout in the 15th (last) round.

Boxing is a pugilist sport and its place as a “sport” is subject of debate. In tennis, you hit the ball, not the opponent. Unless there is personal hatred between two competing tennis players, one would not hit the ball directly at the other. But in training, a tennis player is told to hit the ball directly at the opponent when both are at close range by the net; because the other is expected to dodge and concede the point. Serena is known to do this.

However in her match against Venus, on one such occasion she hit the ball away from her sister. When Serena lost the second advantage point on the fourth game of the second set, she fell on the court with feet askance. Venus showed concern that her sister was well. Getting up to serve, Serena hit a double fault to concede the game. It gave Venus a 4-1 lead that was followed by another break in the sixth game.

Venus served out the set and won 6-2. After Serena won the match, she was asked about their rivalry and answered that while playing “ I do not see her as my sister but a great tennis player, one of the toughest opponents I have had to face. We just try to play our best.”

There are other factors in their careers that are not known to the public. They started out from training as youngsters. They had suffered discrimination all through. But check the statistics. Venus has earned $31 million in prize money before this year’s Open, Serena had won $78 million. There are endorsements for equipment and apparel, negotiated separately for each sister. There are bonuses for winning matches and specific tournaments.

Their mother, Oracene once said just before one of their matches: “If both of them are playing at their best, spectators would be treated to a great exhibition.”

This year, Venus has earned $804, 000, while
Serena has won $9, 921, 645.

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