NEW YORK — How robustly will Venus stand in the way of a Serena Super Slam?
It’s a fair question to ask now that the Williams sisters have reached the collision point of the U.S. Open — Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
Williams versus Williams has never been a spectacle of keen and breathtaking competition. There was a time when the famous siblings clearly disliked it, even strove to avoid such confrontations on tour stops, as per the alleged machinations of their father, though all involved have steadfastly denied the accusation.
But the four prestigious Grand Slams in one calendar year, not accomplished since Steffi Graf pulled it off in 1988, is just about the only challenge left to Williams the Younger. Could Williams the Elder, in her heart and soul, deny a beloved sister that, be the spoiler?
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler,” Venus Williams conceded following her slam-dunk 6-2, 6-1 elimination of Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit on Sunday. “I think people love to see history being made. But at the same time you’re focused on winning your match, even though the circumstances are really much different than you.”
Serena is world No. 1. Venus has been world No. 1 and is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in Flushing Meadows — won it back-to-back at the turn of the millennium — her advancement through the draw somewhat steadier than what her sister is experiencing, with dramatic comebacks after opening sets twice dropped.
Challenging, says Venus, of the inter-Williams dynamics, same for her as any other opponent facing Serena’s ferocious will and killer serve. “What else can you do except to win the point and hope she doesn’t hit an ace?”
Williams, S., nailed the quarters fandango by demolishing compatriot Madison Keys later Sunday afternoon. The match had been teed-up as a potential slug-fest between present and future, with Keys spun as the next great American female. She’s already No. 2 in the U.S. at just age 20 and hardest ball-hitter on the women’s tour — indeed, second only at the midway point of this major to the injury-retired David Goffin of Belgium.
Those powerful ground strokes proved not remotely a problem for Williams as she cruised through the encounter 6-3, 6-3, putting forth one of her strongest serving matches of the tournament with six aces and not allowing Keys a single break point opportunity. Williams is now just three matches away from that coveted calendar slam and her fourth consecutive US Open title.
Naturally, everyone wanted to talk about the looming Williams on Williams showdown instead.
“It’s more fun than it used to be,” Serena acknowledged. “We really relish the opportunity. We’re both happy to still be involved in getting so far. And it’s still super-intense. She’s doing well and she wants to win this. So do I. It’s not easy.
“I think it’s been an amazing rivalry. It’s meant a lot. We’ve done a lot for the sport. Hopefully it can continue as long as we play.”
She added: “I’m playing, for me, the best player in the tournament.”
Except Serena is the best player on the planet.
The last time the sisters met was at Wimbledon in July, fourth round, with Serena prevailing handily, 6-4, 6-3. She holds a 15-11 advantage in their head-to-heads although Venus won their last match on hard-courts, a three-setter in Montreal last year.
On the men’s side, Italy’s Fabio Fognini, on the heels of dispatching Rafael Nadal in an epic five-set marathon Friday, had little left over to throw against Feliciano Lopez, bowing out to the Spaniard in straight sets 6-3, 7-6, 6-1. Physical and mental let-down, he admitted.
“Yeah, for sure. Today I was much (more) tired than (Saturday). Yesterday I was feeling good. I would say, ‘Okay, let’s try.’ But tonight and this morning I wake up really, really not bad, but bad sensation. I was feeling my shoulder, my knee, everything almost.”
Defending champion Marin Cilic also has endured into the quarter-finals, on Sunday setting aside Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1, while another pair of Gauls faced off across the net with Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga easily handling Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.