SIBLING rivalry: Venus, Serena Williams make history at U.S. Open

Saturday, September 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Venus Williams didn't do her customary twirl or wave excitedly to the crowd as she had after her three other Grand Slam tournament titles. She didn't smile, either.

Instead, she celebrated this victory by warmly hugging her opponent, younger sister Serena, and saying, ``I love you.''

On Saturday night, they took sibling rivalry somewhere it had never been before _ the U.S. Open final.

And, as usually happens when they play for real, Venus easily handled Serena, overpowering her 6-2, 6-4 in 69 minutes. It was Venus' second straight Open championship, in addition to two Wimbledon titles.

``I'm disappointed, but not much,'' Serena told the crowd of 23,023, ``because Venus won.''

It had been more than 100 years since sisters played for a Grand Slam tournament title. Two black players had never stood at opposite sides of a net to decide a major singles tennis championship before Venus and Serena took to the court at a stadium named for the black tennis pioneer Arthur Ashe.

And to top it all off, it was the first time a women's Grand Slam final was scheduled for prime time _ a TV change prompted by the increase in the sport's popularity fueled in part by Team Williams.

Neither seemed to truly enjoy the occasion, though, avoiding eye contact on court, walking around the net on opposite sides during some changeovers, and limiting their displays of emotion.

It must not have been easy for two athletes who are accustomed to laughing, high-fiving or jumping to celebrate winning points when they team up for doubles matches.

``There are some good things and some bad things,'' said the 21-year-old Venus, who is 15 months older and 2 inches taller than her sister. ``I always want Serena to win, and it's kind of strange because I'm the bigger sister. I take care of Serena, and I make sure she has everything. I love her.''

At which point Serena, tears welling in her eyes, said, ``Stop!''

``For the younger sisters, we always look up to the older sisters,'' Serena said,'' because they're always ahead of us and they always win.''

Indeed, Venus has won five of their first six pro matches.

She took charge early on Saturday, her powerful strokes more precise than Serena's.

After Serena double-faulted to hand her sibling a 5-2 lead in the first set, Venus walked over to her changeover chair biting her lip, as if trying to suppress a smile for sis' sake.

In the stands, their mother, Oracene, didn't betray her emotions much, either, occasionally covering her face with both hands. She did allow herself to applaud when it was over.

Before the match, Serena smiled as she leaned to whisper to Venus in the white-and-gray tunnel leading to center court. Venus glanced over silently, then looked straight ahead, her expression betraying no emotion.

Two sisters _ and the best female tennis players in the world over the past two weeks and portions of the past two years.

``Basically, it was my dad's dream, my mom's dream,'' Venus said.

``They told us we'd be here playing each other in the final,'' she said. ``If they had told us we would never make it playing tennis, I don't think we'd be here today.''

They smacked balls over the net together Saturday morning on a practice court at the National Tennis Center under the watchful eye of father and coach Richard. It was a less grueling workout than the up to seven-hour sessions they were put through as girls.

``Tennis is just a game, and we're entertainers. People pay to see us play and perform. After that, we go home, and Venus will always be my sister, we're always going to be a family,'' Serena said. ``No matter what, she's always going to be there. We just take tennis as it comes. We play a match. After that, we have to be able to separate, you know, tennis from family life.''

Now all 10 Grand Slam singles matches between sisters have been won by the older one.

The Williams duo doesn't hide that they aren't fond of playing each other, and there has been much debate among other players and fans about whether their father and coach, Richard, predetermines the outcomes of all-in-the-family faceoffs.

``I'm just appalled that anyone would hint something like that,'' Venus said. ``I don't think that has ever been the case and that it ever will be.''

It wasn't too surprising that one Williams or the other might reach the final here _ Serena won the 1999 Open, and Venus did last year.

They play a none-too-subtle, power-driven style of tennis that was not to be found in 1884, when Maud Watson beat her younger sibling, Lillian, at the very first Wimbledon in the only previous Grand Slam final between sisters.