They came in packs from coast to coast–celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Donald Trump to Kim Kardashian with their entourages. A sellout crowd of 23,771 came to see two girls from Compton, California, play on the highest stage.
For one last meaningful time.
Much has been made this week about how the Williams sisters’ story began. Serena and Venus grew up with nothing but a dream. Their parents, Richard Williams and Oracene Price, lifted them out of the streets and into the spotlight.
Tuesday night is how it ends. Fittingly.
Serena and Venus Williams are bigger than tennis. They are role models in particular to African-American women because of their background, but inspirations to so many Americans because of their perseverance and strength of family.
“When you’re growing up, you don’t think ‘I want to inspire people to do this,'” Serena says of the mark she made on women. “I just want[ed] to win some Grand Slams. There is so much more to it that you don’t realize at the time.”
Serena and Venus were trained to win tennis matches, not inspire a nation. Tuesday symbolized how far they have come. Serena’s 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 victory was their 27th meeting. They have met 13 times at Grand Slams, eight times in Grand Slam finals and five times at the U.S. Open.
Tuesday’s match was long removed from the apex of their rivalry. Serena leads the series 16-11, but Venus won only one of eight matches since April 2009. The mega-publicity around this quarterfinal match between the No. 1 and No. 23 seeded Americans was about more than just high-level tennis and Serena’s pursuit of the record books.
Serena-Venus isn’t necessarily the greatest rivalry in tennis, but it could be the most meaningful, and this had the feel of a farewell tour.
“It’s a big topic because I think it’s the greatest story in tennis because of how we started and how we grew up and how we were able to win championships and be such inspirations for so many women across the globe,” Serena says. “It doesn’t get better than that.”
Serena entered a heavy favorite, but Venus came out swinging. The sisters were on serve at 2-2 with Venus, appearing in her first U.S. Open quarterfinal since 2010, looking like she dialed the clock back one last time. Serena then stormed through two breaks to take the set 6-2.
Venus, who has dealt with so much adversity, pulled herself together. After all, she played the past four years after being diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease.
“If I cared deeply about what people thought of me, I probably would never have made it out of Compton, California,” Venus says.
Venus steamrolled her top-ranked sister 6-1 in the second set. It appeared Venus would challenge her sister deep into the night. However, it was not meant to be, as Serena broke Venus’ first service game in the third set and won the final frame 6-3.
The fans — whether paying Trump money or nosebleed cash — got what they came for (sorry, Mayweather-Pacquiao). The greatest sibling athletes in American sports history put on a final show. Venus had no right giving her sister a match, but she did. And it was beautiful.
“I just said I’m so happy for you,” Venus says of her embrace with Serena after the match.
“Probably the most gratifying is I’m still very excited to see Serena have the opportunity to win the four majors. I think that’s the best part.”
Neither Serena nor Venus is retiring and Serena is at the top of the sport. Venus showed Tuesday night, in spurts, when she has the adrenaline, she still has game. But who are we kidding? That was the finale. That was how the script was meant to end. At the nation’s championship, two sisters-turned-women went from learning tennis in Compton to being watched and admired by millions of people around the world.
Serena and Venus both said at this year’s U.S. Open they will start playing doubles again after the Grand Slam season. Last week, Venus suggested she wants to make a run at the 2016 Olympics with Serena. The sisters won doubles gold in 2000, 2008 and 2012.
Serena and Venus may meet again in singles, but the magic is over. Venus is not what she used to be, and as great as 33-year-old Serena is this season, at some point, her play will decline. Venus has had a remarkable season for a 35-year-old, making two Grand Slam quarterfinals for the first time since 2010. But she will still be 36 at next year’s U.S. Open.
Besides, Serena and Venus do not even want this hype anymore.
“It’s 11:30 [p.m.],” Serena said when asked why she was not smiling at her post-match press conference. “To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now. I have to wake up early to practice. I don’t want to answer any of these questions and you keep asking me the same questions. You’re not making it super enjoyable.”
Although Serena and Venus will always be two girls from Compton, the story is long past that. Tuesday night was a treat. Sports stories do not always end the way we want them to finish. By going three high-intensity sets in New York City in front of a celebrity crowd, Serena and Venus spoiled us one last time.
The Williams sisters have combined for 28 Grand Slam titles. For those watching on TV, sitting at Arthur Ashe Stadium or covering the match from the media center, taking a moment to absorb the big picture, there was a lot more than stats.
Serena and Venus, together, left their mark on the world, and on Tuesday, they had their grand finale on the court. Off the court, their influence is endless.
- The PostGame