For a while it was the talk of tennis. Did the Williams family have agreements over who would win when Serena and Venus played each other? The family always denied it and the controversy all but died when Serena started to get the better of her elder sister on a regular basis, but it reopened here yesterday when Elena Dementieva, looking ahead to tomorrow's all-Williams final, said: "For sure it's going to be a family decision."
The family always denied it and the controversy all but died when Serena started to get the better of her elder sister on a regular basis, but it reopened here yesterday when Elena Dementieva, looking ahead to tomorrow's all-Williams final, said: "For sure it's going to be a family decision." The Women's Tennis Association later issued a statement by Dementieva attempting to clarify her comments, but the damage was done.
The third sister showdown final at Wimbledon was confirmed when Serena overcame China's Zheng Jie 6-2, 7-6, Venus having beaten Dementieva 6-1, 7-6 earlier in the afternoon. The final line-up ensures an extension of the sisters' remarkable domination here, Venus having won four of the last eight All England Club championships and Serena two.
Serena, 26, has won eight of their previous 15 meetings, including seven of the last nine. They have met only three times since 2003, with Serena's three-set victory in Bangalore in March their first meeting for three years. Since their 2001 US Open final, which Venus won in straight sets, Serena has won all five of their meetings in Grand Slam finals, including Wimbledon in 2002 and 2003. In winning her "Serena Slam" – the four Grand Slam tournaments in succession from the 2002 French Open – Serena beat Venus in all four finals.
The sisters and their father, Richard, who has been their coach from their earliest days, have always denied that the outcome of their matches has ever been decided by prior arrangement, but in 2001 an American publication alleged that Richard had ordered Serena to lose her match against Venus in the 2000 Wimbledon semi-finals.
Dementieva also stirred the controversy after losing to Venus in the quarter-finals in Indian Wells in 2001, a result that set up a sister showdown in the semi-finals. The Russian was asked for her prediction for the next match. "I don't know what Richard thinks about it," she said. "I think he will decide who's going to win tomorrow."
Asked to expand on her comment, Dementieva recalled a match the sisters had played in Miami two years earlier. "It was so funny," she said.
In Indian Wells it was announced minutes before the sisters were due to go on court for their semi-final that Venus had pulled out with injury.
When Serena beat Kim Clijsters in the subsequent final she was booed and the sisters have not played there since.
In her press conference yesterday Dementieva said: "I cannot imagine myself playing against someone from my family. It's really hard. For sure it's going to be a family decision."
She added: "When they are on the court they're trying to play, to fight. But in the end the family is more important to them and they keep a very nice relationship."
Dementieva said she thought the final would be "more interesting" if it was not an all-Williams affair. "They know their game very well, so maybe there is not so much fight in the end."
In her later statement Dementieva said: "I do not think for one second that matches between Serena and Venus Williams are family decisions. What I meant was it is a unique situation for a family to be in to be playing for a Grand Slam title." When Venus was asked whether there had been family discussions before their matches she said she found the question "pretty offensive" and added: "I'm extremely professional in everything that I do on and off the court.
"I contribute my best in my sport and I also have a ton of respect for myself and my family. So any mention of that is extremely disrespectful for who I am, what I stand for and my family." The sisters share a house during Wimbledon. Serena said it would be "pretty weird" if they did not talk but insisted their semi-final in the women's doubles today was "the only thing on the schedule". She added: "I think we've got closer in the past few years. We talk about a lot. I think we now talk about everything even more than we've done in the past."
Serena had the tougher passage to the final. Zheng, the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, was not over-awed. She hit her ground strokes with a power that defied her small frame and volleyed with the confidence of a player who has had great success in doubles.
Zheng trailed 5-2 before the first of two rain breaks. Serena held serve on the resumption to take the first set, but the second was much closer. Zheng broke to lead 4-2, only for Serena to hit back immediately. At 5-6 Zheng wasted a set point, hitting a backhand return into the net. She never led in the tie-break, which Serena won on a double fault.
Venus, who has not dropped a set here this year, has been in the better form over the last fortnight and maintained that with her defeat of Dementieva.
Finding an immediate rhythm on her returns, Venus broke in the opening game, although the next was arguably the more significant as the champion successfully defended four break points on her own serve.
Dementieva, whose poor serve has always been a weakness, finally got on the scoreboard when she held her serve at 0-4, but even then she only did so after serving a double fault on her first game point. At 1-5 and 0-40 another weak Dementieva serve was punished by a big backhand return followed by a crushing volley.
Venus went 2-0 up in the second set, but Dementieva at last found some form, levelled to 2-2 and had a point to lead 3-2. The Russian led 3-2 in the tie-break, but Venus turned on the power to force three successive errors from 4-3 up to take the match.
Sister Act: Previous Wimbledon finals between the Williams siblings
2002: Serena 7-6, 6-3
Serena, having just beaten Venus in the French Open final, took her sister's Wimbledon crown with an awesome show of power. Venus, who had a shoulder problem, was unable to serve with her usual strength, but made a fight of it. Serena served for the first set at 5-4 only to see Venus break back courtesy of her sister's backhand errors. Serena missed only one first serve in the tie-break and clinched the first set with an ace. Venus again fought back in the second set, breaking back to trail 4-3, but Serena took the next two games to complete her victory.
2003: Serena 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
A strangely passionless match ended with Serena particularly subdued in victory. Venus had suffered a hip injury in her previous match, had to leave the court for treatment in the third set and admitted she would have withdrawn had it not been the final. Serena's average first serves were closer to 100mph than the 120mph she was usually hitting and she lost the first set in unlikely fashion. Venus won the first three games and had four points for a 4-0 lead, but Serena recovered to 4-4, only to lose the set by playing a poor game at 4-5.