PARIS — Their entourage has been remarkably light, almost star-free. No pop star Brandy in the players' lounge to giggle with Serena Williams or rapper Jay-Z to reduce Serena to silence, at least temporarily.
The New York hype that was synonymous with the U.S. Open when the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, met in the final in September has been muted in Paris at the French Open. First, there are no daily tabloids in Paris, and the leading sports newspaper, L'Equipe, has been preoccupied with the deepening malaise of the French World Cup team.
Maybe French minimalism will pave the way for another historic step: A decent match between Venus and Serena, who will play in today's final at Roland Garros.
That hasn't happened. Certainly not on grass, not on a hard court, not on clay or in a Grand Slam event. Maybe there were some great practice sessions in Florida in front of dad and the dogs.
"They haven't really performed up to their potential," said their mother and coach, Oracene. "Hey, they just haven't got there yet. I don't know why. Maybe there may always be a little barrier. They're sisters and you can't neglect that fact."
The prospect of a Williams-Williams final did not have European television commentators thrilled, in part because of the one-sided, often flat nature of their previous matches. Venus leads, 5-2, and is 3-0 against Serena at Grand Slams, including a 6-2, 6-4 victory in the U.S. Open final. Their only meeting on clay came more than four years ago, in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open, and Venus won, 6-4, 6-2.
But 1998 might as well be another lifetime. Four years ago, the household was without a Grand Slam title. Serena broke through first, unexpectedly, and won the 1999 U.S. Open. Venus, who will turn 22 on June 17, responded quickly to move past her sister, and the others, winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in each of the last two years and reaching No. 1 in February.
Many observers believe Serena has emerged as her own person. Included in that group is Oracene, as well as NBC television commentator Chris Evert, who noted Venus is untested at Roland Garros this year. Evert picked Serena to win, and John McEnroe went with Venus.
Serena, 20, has matured since she lost to Venus in a Wimbledon semifinal nearly two years ago, double-faulting on match point.
"I've realized tennis isn't the end of everything," Serena said. "At the time, I used to believe that if I didn't win, the whole world would go down. That normally doesn't happen, so I think by taking it lighter, it's kind of enabled me to do a bit better."
Serena won the most recent meeting against Venus, 6-2, 6-2, in a semifinal at Key Biscayne, Fla., in March, and split two clay-court finals against Justine Henin in May. On clay, Venus beat Henin in the Amelia Island final and lost to Kim Clijsters in the Hamburg final in three sets.
In Paris, Serena has dropped two sets, one to 17-year-old Russian qualifier Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round and another to defending champion Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals, an often riveting and hard-hitting contest. Previously, the sisters had not gone past the quarterfinals here.
"I'm definitely feeling a bit older, wiser, a bit more experienced," Serena said. "I've always felt very comfortable on the clay. Now I feel like a clay-courter."
Said Venus, who has not lost more than four games in a set: "I wanted to do better here because I was starting to think that maybe I had a jinx at this tournament. There's always some tournament on the tour where you always lose.... I didn't want this to become one of those."
Even if Williams vs. Williams doesn't meet the hype and turns out to be a one-sided affair, history already has been made. When the WTA rankings are released Monday, Venus will be No. 1, Serena No. 2 and Capriati No. 3.
On Friday, the sisters were smiling, looking relaxed as they headed into the players' lounge in the early afternoon. That's nothing new. They are almost always together. And their routine wasn't about to change, not even on the eve of this Grand Slam final.
"I think you guys take it more seriously than we do," Serena said. "I mean, we got out there, it's just another match for us. Just obviously a tougher opponent. But that's about it."
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Sisters who have played in Grand Slam finals:
2002 FRENCH OPEN
Venus Williams vs. Serena Williams, today
2001 U.S. OPEN
Venus Williams def. Serena Williams, 6-2, 6-4
Maud Watson def. Lillian Watson, 6-8, 6-3, 6-3