In the end, Venus was a sister without mercy, on court. Yet, a fifth championship here in all, and a second final triumph over her younger sister was celebrated with due sensitivity to the woman closest to her."My first job is big sister,"Venus explained, with a laugh."I take that really seriously."In between, though, there were precious few feelings spared as the Williams sisters provided the required riposte to anyone who'd had the temerity to suggest that this would besome kind of carve-up.
Rarely will either have had to participate in a tougher contest of 22 games, which included some titanic rallies. As Venus said afterwards: "Whenyou're in a final against Serena Williams, five [Wimbledon titles] seems so far away from that first point." And you don't hit a record-equalling 129mphserve, as the winner did at the start of the second set, in a contest that is in any waypre-ordained.
But it was never going to be thus. The remark of Venus's semi-final conquest Elena Dementieva that "for sure, it's a family decision" was something or nothing. Most on Centre Court yesterday would have been utterly convinced of the latter, even before the Russian clarified the issue and attributed the comment to lack of English as her first language.
That said, in elite sport, the situation here was surely unique. Well, at least since the last time they met in a final here, in 2003. And the Williams blood is thicker than most; for these are hardly distant acquaintances. This pair live togetherin Florida's Palm BeachGardens. Which may explain why the three previous finals between them here – with Venus the victor in 2000, and the 2002 and 2003 titles both going to Serena – have not exactly crackled with magnetic energy.
So, nobody expected that Williams versus Williams Act 4 was ever going to contain the acrimony of, say, "Kramer vs Kramer". But it had its moments And nobody could say it wasn't power versus power. For most of the 111 minutes, it wasfull on. On court, these women wouldn't know how to go soft on each other under the eyes of mum Oracene and sisters, Isha and Lynn, who could do nothing more than joyfully applaud every winner. "It's hard for all of them," reflected Venus, adding with a laugh: "I kinda hope they want me to win."
Referring to her relatively subdued response to victory, Venus added: "When a matchis that close, it obviously makes it more exciting to win, and nothing can detract from winning Wimbledon, but I'm definitely in tune to my sister's feelings, and she has lost."Lost, but still way ahead of her other rivals.
In only the second year since equal prize money for men and women was introduced, the distaff side of the game finds itself embarrassed by the fact that yesterday's final was contested by two women who can almost be regarded as part-timers and drop into Wimbledon between fashion shoots for Vogue. The retirement of players like Kim Clijsters and, earlier this year, Justine Henin, has not helped matters, but for the top four seeds to all fall by the fourth round is an indictment of the paucity of competition. But that is no fault ofthese redoubtable characters: Serena who won her first Wimbledon ten years ago and Venus, who followed up two years' later.
Under the approving gaze of the nine-times Wimbledon champion, Martina Navratilova, and six-times winner, Billy Jean, King in the Royal Box, Venus, the defending champion, contesting her seventh Wimbledon final in nine years, still has work to do to equal those records, though, with Venus enthusing, "this puts you in the stratosphere" it bodes well that she can remain in those rarified heights.
On route to this final, she hadn't dropped a set. And after 53 minutes yesterday, she still hadn't, after recovering superbly from being broken in the first game. Slowly, inexorably, she asserted herself as Serena began to question herself. A brutal rally in the eighth game, won by Venus, who broke back a point later, was a prelude of what was to follow.
The intensity of the match was encapsulated by an engrossing ninth game, in which Serena reached break point, only to her allow her sibling to take the game, and the lead for the first time. "Use the force, Serena" was the haunting advice ofan onlooker at one stage.A would-be Alec Guinness, presumably, imagining this was "Star Wars"? In a sense it was, of course. But the force wasn't with Serena, and after a protracted battle of wits,Venus prevailed to forge ahead before taking the set.
The sisters broke each other early in the second set, and it went with serve until Venus had two match points in the 10th game. Serena saved the first with an punishing ace but a poor backhand on the second gave yielded Big Sis the title.
The only disappointment,was that Serena couldn't stretch her sibling more and extend matters to a third set. The Centre Court crowd made it abundantly clear that they wanted more.But it was no to be. Only their father and coach, Richard Williams, was not overly concerned with the outcome. Which is why he absented himself from the final, his task complete. Either way, it would be victory for daddy's girl. He knew that these sisters wouldbe doing it for themselves.
Grand Slam singles titles: Serena Williams: 8
1999 US Open v Martina Hingis 2002 French Open v Venus Williams
2002 Wimbledon v V Williams
2002 US Open v V Williams
2003 Australian Open v V Williams
2003 Wimbledon v V Williams
2005 Australian Open v Lindsay Davenport
2007 Australian Open v Maria Sharapova
Venus Williams: 7
2000 Wimbledon v L Davenport
2000 US Open v L Davenport
2001 Wimbledon v Justine Henin 2001 US Open v S Williams
2005 Wimbledon v L Davenport
2007 Wimbledon v Marion Bartoli
2008 Wimbledon v S Williams
Head to head in Grand Slam finals: Serena 5-2 Venus
2001 US Open Venus bt Serena 6-2 6-4
2002 French Open Serena bt Venus 7-5 6-3
2002 Wimbledon Serena bt Venus 7-6 6-3
2002 US Open Serena bt Venus 6-4 6-3
2003 Australian Open Serena bt Venus 7-6 3-6 6-4
2003 Wimbledon Serena bt Venus 4-6 6-4 6-2
2008 Wimbledon Venus bt Serena 7-5 6-4