Against all odds, it will happen again. Serena and Venus Williams will meet for the 28th time overall. Not only that, but this will be the 9th time the sisters will meet in a Grand Slam final, their first matchup with that distinction since 2009. For several reasons, this meeting feels different than the previous 27.
Perhaps the biggest difference this time is that very few people thought this would ever happen again in a Grand Slam final. While Serena has been a much more consistent force at the top of the game in recent years, both she and her older sister have struggled to stay healthy. Serena was out of the game for almost a year after a pulmonary embolism in 2010 and has missed small patches of time with several nagging injuries since. The fact that she has been able to add nine singles majors and an Olympic singles gold medal to her tally after a brush with death is as incredible a feat as you will come across in any walk of life. She now sits a single win away from breaking Steffi Graf’s modern era record of 23 Grand Slam singles titles.
For Venus, it has been a battle just to get on the court since late summer 2011. She was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness known as Sjögren’s syndrome. The trademark symptoms are fatigue and joint pain. Two of the last things any 30+ year old trying to play tennis at a world class level needs. She soldiered on even as the early losses and withdraws piled up, despite an occasional flash of brilliance.
Venus failed to reach the second week of any Grand Slam event in singles from 2011-2014. Since then, she has reached the second week four times. She had notched enough big wins to become a solid player ranked in the top 20 again. Even so, lifting another Grand Slam trophy seemed like a real stretch. However, the stars and draw have aligned in Australia to kick off 2017. Judging from her reaction after her semifinal win, I am not sure that Venus herself can believe she has this chance again. Watch it on the Troll Tennis YouTube channel and try not to get emotional. The Australian Open winner’s trophy has eluded Venus to this point in her stellar career. She could not get past her sister in the 2003 final. 14 years later, she has another crack at it.
My heart and head say two different things here. I suspect most fans are in the same boat. Since the sisters have literally played against each other since they were toddlers, it is pointless to do an Xs and Os type breakdown. Like their previous 27 battles, this one will feature big hitting and be competitive. However, competitive has not always meant well played over the years. An awkward situation for both players has always produced some scratchy tennis.
Serena leads the head to head 16-11. Each player is very capable of beating the other. Venus has almost always handled the emotions of their meetings better, but Serena’s slightly superior natural talent is virtually impossible to pick against. The situation has to be just right. Even then, I am usually wrong. She gets number 23 and denies her big sister number eight. The pick: Serena in three sets.
Enjoy this one folks. With both Serena and Venus well into their 30s, we may never see it again. The match will air live on ESPN at 3:30 AM ET Saturday morning with another showing at 9 AM ET on ESPN 2.