The day's final shot from across the net landed wide, and Venus Williams' shoulders seemed to sag with relief. There was no show of jubilation, no gesture toward her parents, not even a smile.
The Williams family champion walked slowly to the net and gave kid sister Serena a somber high-five. Then Venus put her arm around Serena's shoulders and they walked off the court, a pair of winners.
Venus defeated Serena in Sunday's all-in-the-family final at the Lipton Championships, taking eight of the final nine points for the 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory.
It was the first all-sister women's final in 115 years, but only Richard Williams would confess to the emotions of the occasion. The father of the finalists raised them in a poor neighborhood in Compton, Calif., before moving to Florida in 1991. The memories forced him to leave his seat briefly during the match.
| Venus Williams still has the edge over younger sister Serena. (AP) |
"I really thought I was going to cry," said Williams, who went outside the stadium to smoke a cigarette. "What was going through my mind was all the problems we've had in tennis, bringing the girls up, how difficult it was, the gang members, all the people out there."
"I was saying, 'Look where you are today.' It was so difficult for me to believe it."
The sisters appeared tense throughout the match but wore broad smiles during the trophy ceremony. Later, they shrugged off the sibling showdown as just another match.
"It's not too big," said Venus, 18. "In the end we go home, we live life. You have to be happy after that. You have to remind yourself it's a game, and there's only one winner. Next week, there will be another opportunity."
"I definitely look forward to another final with Venus," said Serena, 17. "It's what we always dreamed of."
Venus, who ended Serena's 16-match winning streak, won $265,000 for her second consecutive Lipton title. Serena settled for $132,000.
As the match began, their dad held up a sign that read: "Welcome to the Williams show." Summing up the mood of the supportive crowd of 14,000 was a shout from the stands during the first set: "Go Williams!"
Venus dominated at the start, with Serena rarely able to hit a ball beyond her rangy sister's reach. When the score reached 6-1, Dad held up a sign that read: "Go Serena Go."
|Serena Williams couldn't quite catch up with her older sister. (AP)|
Trailing 4-3 in the second set, Serena rallied and won four consecutive games, with many of her points coming on mistakes by Venus. The sequence prompted speculation that Venus was letting up -- perhaps because their father, mindful of the international TV coverage, had told his girls to go three sets.
The family denied it.
"I would never tell my daughters to do that," Richard said. "As a matter of fact, I really think my daughters should get off that concrete as soon as possible."
"Serena always comes back and beats people," Venus said. "I didn't want to become another victim. It was all I could do to hold her off."
Serena's motivation was never in doubt. When she fell behind 2-1 in the final set, she flung her racket across the court in frustration.
"After a while you're thinking, 'I can win,'" she said. "You're not thinking about who you're playing."
The sisters have always said they're close, and after nearly two hours of tennis, the score was 4-all in the third set. But Serena committed seven unforced errors in the final two games.
"I was really out of control there," she said. "I went for too much."
Serena, shorter but more muscular than her sister, overpowered Monica Seles and top-ranked Martina Hingis earlier in the tournament. But inconsistent groundstrokes betrayed her in the final, and she had a whopping 66 unforced errors to 41 for Venus.
Venus, older by 15 months, now leads the sibling rivalry 3-0. She'll remain No. 6 in next week's rankings, while Serena will climb to a career-best 11th.
"Venus is a great player," Serena said. "I'm a great, awesome player too."
According to the WTA Tour, the only other all-sister women's final took place at Wimbledon in 1884, when Maud Watson beat her older sister, Lilian.
Williams finals might become common. The sisters plan to play many of the same tournaments the rest of the year.
When this one ended, the sisters gave their parents courtside kisses, then accepted trophies and posed for photographers. Venus, so solemn when the match ended, now wore a grin. Beating your sister is better than the alternative.
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