NEW YORK — Serena, 19, moved into the finals first, upsetting top-seeded Martina Hingis, 6-3, 6-2 at the U.S. Open here Friday.
Venus, 21, playing in the second semifinal match, had to overcome a 3-0 first-set deficit before getting her powerful forehand under control and running second-seeded Jennifer Capriati into exhaustion with a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
And so the stage is set. The Williams sisters from Compton will make tennis history tonight.
Facing each other in the first prime-time women's final at the U.S. Open, Venus and Serena Williams will be the first siblings playing for a Grand Slam title in 117 years. The event also will mark the first time two African Americans will be playing in the finals of a major tennis championship.
The sisters are close, and questions have been raised about how eager they are to compete against each other, but both former champions insist they want to win tonight.
"I'm still trying to take the title home," Venus said. "I know Serena won't be giving up anything. It's been two years for her since she's won [here]. It's been a year for me."
Said Serena: "I won't have any problems. This is the U.S. Open. If you ever notice, the winner gets $850,000. So I won't have any problem going out there and trying to win."
Oracene Williams, their mother and the quiet force behind her champion daughters, hugged them both Friday and then said: "I'm going to tell them to go out there and play hard and have fun and play the game that people haven't really seen you play. I know how they can play, and they haven't done that yet. I guess it's because of the player you are playing."
Serena, 15 months younger than Venus, is shorter at 5-foot-10 and stockier and tends to dress more flamboyantly. She brightened Arthur Ashe Stadium in a glowing yellow dress Friday, while the 6-foot-1 Venus chose a white halter-top dress with pale green accents.
The sisters have rarely dressed alike. They do, however, think alike. They have asserted from the start of their professional careers that some day they would play each other for a Grand Slam tournament title.
"This is really sweet," Venus said after her match Friday. "We've had a lot of blessings from God. And we're happy that we're healthy and we're happy to be here."
From the time that their father, Richard, said he would produce two tennis champions because he watched a match on TV and saw the winner presented with a big check, Venus and Serena have been in the spotlight.
That light was often unkind. Richard Williams was criticized for keeping his daughters off the traditional proving grounds of the national and international junior circuits. His unseemly behavior at last year's U.S. Open--when he danced in the face of runner-up Lindsay Davenport after Venus had won the title--took some of the well-earned attention away from Venus.
Venus and Serena seemed cocky when they first arrived on the pro tour and proclaimed themselves future top-ranked players, destined to meet in the finals of Grand Slam tournaments.
The sisters have played limited schedules, partly so they can attend fashion school and partly because they often chose not to enter the same tournaments to avoid playing each other.
When Serena excused a loss to Capriati earlier this summer at Wimbledon because of illness, Capriati sniffed that she was accustomed to Serena's excuses.
But it was Richard Williams' remarks about "racist" fans at the Indian Wells tournament in March that focused attention on a problem that had been whispered about for nearly two years.
In five meetings between the sisters, Venus owns a 4-1 advantage over Serena. And it was the match not played at Indian Wells that brought almost undivided criticism to the family.
A packed stadium had gathered to see Venus and Serena meet in the semifinals of the Tennis Masters Series. Fewer than five minutes before the match, it was announced that Venus had withdrawn because of a knee injury. When Serena played in the finals a day later, she was loudly booed.
Two days later, a tabloid newspaper printed a story quoting members close to the Williams family as saying Richard Williams had, in the past, decided which sister would win matches between the two.
The story was given credence because, at the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals, Venus defeated Serena, 6-2, 7-6 (3), in a match in which Serena played poorly. She had played superbly until that point in the tournament. But because Venus had been admittedly dispirited when Serena had become the first sister to win a Grand Slam title at the 1999 U.S. Open, there was open speculation that their father had ordered Serena to lose the Wimbledon match.
On Friday, Venus responded to allegations that Richard Williams influenced outcomes of matches between the sisters with a vehement denial.