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The 29th edition of Venus Williams facing Serena Williams felt different

by 

Briana Foust

Neither woman was the highest-ranked tennis player in the entire world. The winner would have to play at least three more matches if she wanted to be known as the 2018 Indian Wells titlist.  Serena Williams is now a proud mother every time she steps on to the court (“Mrs. Williams” to be exact). Venus Williams is eternally continuing the tradition of her idol Billie Jean King, constantly redefining the limits of the words “personal best.”

Even more remarkable was that this edition was able to take place in Indian Wells, California. The setting is infamous in Williams family history, though reclaimed by Serena and Venus in their later years to model the message that any act, no matter how traumatic, can be overcome. This was their earliest meeting in a tournament since 17-year-old Venus beat 16-year-old Serena at the 1998 Australian Open.  

The first set showed that Venus was not going to make things easy for her younger sister in her return. Venus displayed some of her best form of 2018 with penetrating deep groundstrokes and court coverage that forced Serena to employ short angled winners to create space in order to finish points. A great point at 5-2, 15-0 in the first set showed Venus at full flight. The point unfortunately ended with an error, but Venus strongly defended Serena’s attempts to steer her off the court with crosscourt backhands until she could change the dynamic with deep and strong forehands. After 36 minutes, we were wondering how Serena would respond.

In the second set, it seemed almost too easy for Serena to forget that she was testing her comeback expectations against a player who was in the conversation for retaking world number one less than six months ago, let alone her older sister. It is amazing that Serena is even producing tennis that is worthy of a top-20-ranked player when six months ago she was still bedridden and recovering from pregnancy complications. Her serve did not show up consistently in this match and the errors were more freely flowing, but Serena kept competing and bringing variety in her game in hopes of making one last push. She won’t be satisfied with how she played, but for all the eyes hoping to see her regain her top form, this short week had to feel satisfying. Progress could definitely be identified in the three-match progression from Zarina Diyas to Kiki Bertens to this Monday Night Tennis showcase.

Now more than ever, this night match in Indian Wells ultimately felt more like recapturing lost time, a glimpse into moments the chasm of the 2001 Indian Wells trauma almost discontinued permanently. This was a moment in which the healing powers of time allowed more and more people to understand and appreciate what could be argued is the greatest sports story ever told.  Luckily for us, Venus and Serena were — and still are — the zenith of American tennis. Then again, it doesn’t seem to matter which decade we are in when we say that anymore.

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