LEXINGTON, Kentucky, USA
There was no interaction between the tennis players. They didn’t even turn to see each other when Venus Williams passed Serena in the warm-up area at the Top Seed Open.
Moments later, the two headed to the court, to face each other for the 31st time in history.
They were both wearing masks. Serena’s was patterned like a leopard skin. Venus opted for a more discreet and surgical design, in blue.
His entry was not received by the ovation of the public, but by silence. And there are no spectators in the first tennis tournament that takes place in the United States since all the activity of this sport was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
But when the match started, everything seemed normal. There were tremendous shots, great serves. Serena came back and won the last four games to beat her older sister 3-6 6-3, 6-4 in a second-round match, 22 1/2 years after the first match between the two as professionals.
Some people lay on the ground to watch the game through a crack in the bottom of the fence.
“I definitely felt more relaxed than at a Wimbledon or US Open stadium,” said Serena, who is now 19-12 against her sister. “But it’s not like a practice field either.”
When the match ended, the rivals simply greeted each other with a clash of their rackets. There were no handshakes or hugs, in compliance with social distancing rules.
And in another sign of the times, there was a sign that said “Black LIves Matter” on a wall behind the baseline.
It was a close encounter, in which each knew how to react when the other seemed to detach.
And they played with intensity. In the first set, Serena questioned with everything when the chair umpire reversed a decision, giving Venus an ace.
“This was a real match, with real points and real consequences,” said Venus, who has won seven singles Grand Slam tournament titles, 16 fewer than Serena’s 23.
Serena immediately broke down and went up 2-0. But Venus responded chained five games to take the first set. Serena proceeded to regroup in the second.
The match was played in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (90 F) and high humidity, so there was a 10-minute break after the second set.
In the third, Venus led 4-2 by winning three games in a row. Obviously, Serena shook herself and with a break she took the lead 5-4 with the help of 11 double faults from Venus and a backhand down the parallel after a 12-goal rally.
Serena proceeded to sentence the victory with her serve and left the family rivalry 19-12.
Venus is 40 and Serena will turn 39 next month, making her combined age the highest in a WTA match since 2004, when Martina Navratilova (47) faced Amy Frazier (31).
In her next match, Serena will face fellow American Shelby Rogers, who defeated Canadian Leylah Fernández 6-2, 7-5.
Jili Teichmann advanced to the quarterfinals, beating Yulia Putintseva 6-2, 6-2. She will collide with CiCi Bells, who defeated Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-2.