venus and serena

*Flushing Meadows, NY – The “Serena Williams plays Venus Williams” story … again?

We always make a big deal out of the Williams sisters playing each other at Grand Slams. It makes for a good story line, because rarely does one household deliver greatness on the order of the Williamses. It’s of particular interest, though, when they’re on the same side of the draw. That’s because it guarantees that there can only be on in the tournament’s final, and more than likely it’s Serena who’s going for some lofty career milestone that Venus can thwart.

So, here we are again, at the 2016 US Open, and the sisters are on the same side of the draw again. If they meet, they’d meet in the semis.

It happened nearly the same way last year, except they met in the quarterfinals.  That match was considered the marquee match of the tournament. Heck, Oprah and Gail came to watch, so you know it was a big deal. But back to this year, they both have a good chance – at least on paper – to give us another sister act thriller … but strange things happen at Grand Slams.

They both have a pretty winable draw, based on rankings and head-to-heads:

Serena’s biggest threats are Simona Halep (5), who’s soundly beaten her once before at the year end finals (Serena leads their head to head 7-1) and the streaky Sam Stosur (17), who beat her in 2011 in the tournament’s final (Serena leads their head to head, 8-3).

Venus’s biggest threats are Poland’s surging, Agniezska Radwanska (Venus leads their head to head 8-4), who’s a human backboard, and Czech, Karolina Pliskova (Venus leads 1-0), who has limited movement, but a serve that rivals Serena’s and, if she gets set up, very powerful ground strokes.

Threats aside, if both sisters are “on,” they will meet in the semis. If not …

As for explaining the gravity of the two meeting in New York in particular, the Williams sisters have always loved playing and excelled on the New York hard courts. The US Open is where they both won their first Grand Slams. Serena won in 1999 and Venus in 2000. The New York crowd hasn’t always returned the love, but it now seems they have grown to genuinely appreciate them. And even when they didn’t, they loved to hate them, because they always sold tickets and spiked ratings.

But, do the sisters see it the way we do?

Not necessarily.

It’s not new or news to the Williams sisters themselves to take to the court against one another. Venus expressed as much in her round 1 post-match press conference:

“We’ve been playing each other since day one,” she said. “…we know we have to play each other. If we didn’t want to play each other, one of us should have run track or something. So, we know it’s going to happen when we get out there. We just get ready for it.”

But short of the newly formed Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber rivalry that could only happen in the Us Open final, the Williams sisters “bout” is the most thrilling possible match up to look forward to this year – especially being the eldest yet highest ranked (USA) active women on tour.

And since they’re on the same side of the draw, they play on the same days. Thus on Thursday, one after the other they took to Ashe – with the roof closed due to rain – to earn a spot in round 3.

Venus Williams was up first in the last day session.  She battled it out against German, Julia Goerges, someone who has the game but can’t seem to string enough match wins together to stay afloat in the WTA rankings. Venus played her once before and won, giving her confidence and intel going into the match. And how it looked on paper, with Venus favored, is how it turned out.

Venus played a very measured match, not burning too much energy along the way.  She uncharacteristically-of-late only dropped serve once, in the opening game, but immediately broke back. The elder Williams pretty much cruised after that, serving three aces, hitting eighteen winners and converting four of seven break points in just and hour and 18 minutes to seal the deal at 6-2, 6-3. Venus is 35-years-old and needs all the energy she can get to go as far in the tournament as she can, which made that particular win – straight sets with little sweat – her friend:

“Today was a lot more measured than my first round. I just felt like I had to dial it back a little bit, play a little bit more percentage tennis, play within myself, keep my errors down,” she said.

“Very happy that it worked out against an opponent who is seasoned, who can play, who can serve, who has a lot of big shots. So, it was a nice test to come through.”

Serena Williams followed right after Venus.  She kicked off the night session, up against fellow American, Vania King.

King is always lurking around the Slams’ early rounds, with occasional round 2 or 3 results. But if Serena was anywhere near “on,” a snowball would’ve had a better chance in hell than King would to have won last night. And it turns out Serena WAS on (although she was displeased with her play, based on all the grimacing).

The match was in Serena’s hands from the start. She hit 13 aces, 38 winners and cranked serves topping speeds of 121mph to get the job done. Some might say she was “showing out in front of company,” considering she had Beyonce and Jay-Z in her box for support.

Serena Williams during her post-match press conference.

Serena Williams during her post-match press conference.

“Usually, when people are there, I try to play better, if they are famous and they are doing great at their job.  It’s like I want to show them that I’m good at my job, too – minus today,” she said of the power couple’s support.

But whatever the case and despite her harsh self-criticism, she came to play. Most of the points that King won were off Serena’s errors made out of haste, and with that, the diminutive much lower ranked American went down in flames. She lost 6-3, 6-3 to the world no. 1 in just over an hour.

So, as the end of round 2 wrapped, the Williams sisters live to fight another round AND bring us closer to that tantalizing all-Williams semifinal. And side note, Sam Stosur was sent packing while Serena’s was dragging King. That leaves only Halep in Serena’s draw who can trouble her – on paper.

On the men’s side, American, Donald Young, had his match delayed by rain. He was scheduled to play early in the day on one of the outer courts of the BJK Tennis Center, but the downpour shut that down.  He was probably fine with it, however, given he was playing a walking serving machine and knew his singles run was all but over.

Donald Young

Donald Young

Young’s Ukrainian opponent, Ivo Karlovic (21), stands 6’11“ tall, and not only does he have a serve that comes at you like it’s being shot from a cannon lodged in a tree, but his net and ground games aren’t anything to sneeze at either. They’d played before, with a 1-0 head to head (Karlovic) … and that precedent told the story.  Young was just under too much pressure during the match, knowing that if he dropped serve even once per set, he’d likely not recover.  The Ukranian wore Young down, causing him to be the first crack each set. He was sent packing, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4.  Consolation: he’s still in doubles (Nicholas Monroe) and mixed (Taylor Townsend).

Madison Keys was over on the “Old Grandstand (P6)” the night prior (Wednesday) barreling her way through another American, Kayla Day, trying to make round 3. Day is ranked no. 374 in the world and was clearly over-matched against the comprehensive game of the world no. 9, but she admirably kept a positive attitude as she was being pummeled. Keys sent her compatriot packing, 6-1, 6-1 in just under an hour and was relieved to get an easy second round win under her belt.

Madison Keys will be back in action on Ashe on Friday at 1pm, up against Naomi Osaka of Japan, who has a power game that just may give the American a run for her money. Her results in 2016 have been notable, earning 3rd round berths at the Australian and the French (missed Wimbledon), which indicates she’s got the goods.