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Williams sisters are poised to clash again

While holding each other in high regard, Venus and Serena enjoy rivalry as much as they can.

July 02, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

WIMBLEDON, England -- Here's a snippet from Williams World, where one likely Wimbledon finalist says of another likely Wimbledon finalist, who happens to be her sister, "I would [love to] have her legs. She has the sexiest legs."

And here's another snippet from Williams World, where one likely finalist says that if the other likely finalist happens to lose early in a tournament, "I'm always sad when she leaves and she's gone. It's not the same."

And here's another snippet from Williams World, where two likely finalists double as, well, roommates, and might eat breakfast together on the morning of the final, of which one says, "I'm going to sabotage her and eat all the breakfast."

Williams World, which once dominated the tennis sky before receding somewhat, has reappeared to hover over Wimbledon 2008, reminding everyone of its rarefied realities.

Among those are that Serena Williams envies Venus Williams' legs; Venus Williams pines for Serena Williams if she loses early; and Serena Williams might hoard Venus Williams' breakfast before their final.

It's all so routinely familiar and yet astoundingly unusual.

"I couldn't imagine playing my sister in sports," said the 69th-ranked Bethanie Mattek, an American who played Serena in the fourth round. "It's really hard to play someone you love and care about and then be mean, basically, on the court."

That passage aptly sums up the ticklish contour of the Williams World everyone remembers.

With both players cracking the Wimbledon semifinals as runaway favorites, and with the game's top four players eliminated, they figure to collide in a Grand Slam final for the first time since Wimbledon 2003, when Serena won, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. in the fifth Williams World final out of the last six Grand Slams at that time.

So tangled and unknowable is this rivalry that Venus still mildly resents that match -- "I think I had an injury, but I still came really close to winning" -- even as she writes in her diary in the Times of London that she thinks of Serena and buys her little gifts while shopping in Wimbledon Village.

It's the singular rivalry in which one (Serena) says of the other, "It definitely hurts less to lose to her. I mean, I'll be bitter, but at the end of the day it's a lot easier than losing to someone I feel I should normally beat."

Note that she did not say at the end of the day she'd also be happy for her, but that might've been simple oversight.

Venus refers to a potential final with Serena as manna -- "The best part is that we're both in the finals" -- while Serena calls it "the ultimate goal."

She also said, "I mean, like yesterday, when we were practicing next to each other, I kept looking a little bit at her to see."

To scout.

And while contrasting the styles, and noting that Venus serves harder, Serena noticed a reporter agreeing and said, sardonically, "You don't have to nod your head that vigorously."

And when told that bookmakers have Venus as the favorite, Serena said, "Yeah, well, she did win last year. Maybe that has something to do with it. But I'm not going to sit here and say she's the favorite when I'm still in the tournament. That's not me. I always believe that I'm the favorite. Even if I'm not the favorite, I'm always going to believe that I am."

And as Wimbledon again dwells in Williams World and sisters aged 28 and 26 aim toward meeting for a 17th time -- Serena leads, 9-7 -- it's clear that no one will ever deconstruct this intricate, implausible rivalry.

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Wimbledon: Day 9

A look at who won, who lost and what's next at the All England Club. World rankings in parentheses.

Who won

* Venus Williams, United States (7) -- defeated Tamarine Tanasugarn, Thailand (60), 6-4, 6-4 -- Williams faced eight break points in the first set but yanked herself from thickets by serving 63% at up to 126 mph. You're almost certainly not going to win in such circumstances.

* Serena Williams, United States (6) -- defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland (11), 6-4, 6-0 -- Williams rang in 76% of first serves. You're absolutely not going to win in such circumstances.

* Zheng Jie, China (133) -- defeated Nicole Vaidisova, Czech Republic (22), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 -- The clever 5-foot-4 1/2 -inch Zheng made the patently un-clever 6-foot Vaidisova look somewhat oafish at times. It made for rather pleasurable viewing.

* Elena Dementieva, Russia (5) -- defeated Nadia Petrova, Russia (18), 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-3 -- She held a 5-1 lead in the second set and two match points in the tiebreaker before her familiar demons stopped by. Either she's intrinsically tormented or so benevolent that she just decided the Centre Court crowd deserved to see a whole lot more tennis at these prices.

Next up: Men's quarterfinals

* Rafael Nadal, Spain (2) vs. Andy Murray, Britain (11) -- Apparently Scottish people often don't root for England in sporting events such as the World Cup. How genteel of England, then, to make like some insanely frothing Davis Cup crowd for a Scot.

* Roger Federer, Switzerland (1) vs. Mario Ancic, Croatia (43) -- Ancic, of course, remains the last person to beat Federer here. That, of course, was so long ago and of such different contour that it's as if everybody has been reincarnated.

* Marat Safin, Russia (75) vs. Feliciano Lopez, Spain (35) -- A spotty genius who has found his game, plays a Spanish serve-and-volley Wimbledon pioneer in his second quarterfinal in four years. And, as a bonus, girls will squeal.

* Arnaud Clement, France (145) vs. Rainer Schuettler, Germany (94) -- Clement, 30, who had gone 4-9 this year before Wimbledon, is among the best personalities in sports. If you want to pooh-pooh this quarterfinal, you're just a screaming meanie.

-- Chuck Culpepper

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