James Lawton: Sense of doubt inevitable when Venus and Serena continue this family affair

You could have been excused for forgetting that while Wimbledon squirmed over the possibility that another all-Williams women's final tomorrow might have all the competitive edge of a session of pass the parcel – or in this case the silver – in the family parlour, there was still a live contender from outside the extraordinary empire made by the eccentric Richard, father of Venus and Serena.

A second final re-match here – after two Serena victories so comfortable they inevitably provoked deep questions about the level of her sister's commitment – was, after all, almost the last word in fait accompli when Venus rarely had to move out of first gear in disposing of the slow-starting Russian Elena Dementieva.

This became even more of a certainty when Serena at first played with her Chinese opponent Zheng Jie as though she was no more threatening than a small charm on one of her more extravagant bracelets.

It was a scenario desperately low on the spontaneity and fire which we like to think is fundamental to great sport on a great stage. Women's tennis? This day, as it had been for most of the tournament, didn't come within a league of the status.

Not, that is, until Zheng began to play, in a way that sometimes her opponent does, a way that mocks the idea you can make a tennis star as you can a lawyer or a worker in porcelain.

This is the charge against the Williams sisters – and Zheng. That it had happened to the Americans in one of the unlikeliest parishes of South Central Los Angeles and for Zheng when her behemoth sports nation, gearing for the coming Olympics, decided she was suitable raw material for a medal in the sport, was the burden of perception they carried on to the Centre Court yesterday.

Yet when Zheng produced a series of quite beautiful backhand passes to stretch into a desperately tense tie-breaker in the second set, when she brought furrows of doubt to the most powerful player the women's game has ever seen, we were carried away from a set of preconceptions and a sense of doubt that will inevitably shroud the latest collision between sisters who already share 14 Grand Slam titles.

Serena clenched her fists when Zheng yielded finally to the pace and the sheer width of her opponent's talent. In her moment of triumph Venus did that funny little dance which sometimes seems not to be so much a celebration but something which has required at least a degree of choreography. And, of course, the paternal Svengali looked down, proud, no doubt, but also surely conscious – that once again awe for the brilliance of his nurturing of phenomenally successful daughters will dwindle into speculation about his powers of manipulation.

Venus reacted vehemently to suggestions from Dementieva – later retracted in a way that suggested that they may have borrowed briefly a few persuasive touches from the old KGB – that tomorrow's result will be settled by "family decision". She said she would no longer discuss the matter because it was just too ridiculous.

However, it is not quite the reaction of those who witnessed her defeats by Serena here in 2002 and 2003. Already a double winner of the great prize, she submitted so gently that the questioning was so intense on the first occasion that it brought her to tears. Had the family council ordained the result? But, of course, it is probably more complicated than this.

The Williams family have enjoyed extraordinary success yet anyone who knows from where they come, who has ever toured the relentlessly hazardous streets which five years ago claimed their elder sister Yetunde, cannot be surprised that sometimes the face of their joy is a little clouded. An intense family who inevitably have a sense that they have beaten the most extraordinary odds will no doubt always keep something of themselves hidden. It is why much of the public is no more likely to warmly embrace this final than they did the ones before.

This doesn't mean necessarily that they will believe a family accommodation will be reached. But it does suggest that fighting it out with your sister, one you have travelled along with step-by-step in arguably the most extraordinary story tennis has ever known, would be a strain on all but the most robotic of superstars.

Plainly, the Williams girls are not robots. They are wonderfully talented sportswomen who once again dominate the game which first greeted them as though they were visitors from another planet, which, of course, in many ways they were.

Now they have colonised the tennis universe they might hope for less complicated days, less tearing emotion. But perhaps nothing is so easy when the world watches to see how strenuously you will seek to destroy your sister.

The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone