Outsiders overwhelmed by power of the sisterhood

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The Independent Online

At the stage of his career when he grew tired of the British media using descriptive words like panzer, blitzkrieg and stormtrooper, Boris Becker pointed out gently: "Tennis is not a war, nobody gets killed."

True enough, but a couple of women finished up seriously mauled in the US Open semi-finals. Martina Hingis was left, if only narrowly, with her No 1 ranking intact, and Jennifer Capriati has her Grand Slam triumphs in Australia and France to savour. At least the Williams sisters left them that much as they rampaged into last night's final, the first all-sister act in a big tournament since the daughters of a Midlands vicar, Maud and Lilian Watson, met in the final of the 1884 Wimbledon.

For the rest, it was a bleak weekend for Hingis and Capriati. The fact that the Swiss girl is a rabbit trapped in the headlights of the real power operators was savagely reinforced by Serena, while Capriati, for all her admirable resurgence this year, still cannot match Venus for stamina, determination and skill when the chips are down, as they assuredly were in the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday evening.

Explaining her eclipse, Hingis said: "I couldn't read [Serena's] serve. It was difficult to reach it. Even if I got there, there's not much I could do with it. She played smart, waited for her chances, hit winners." Serena got every one of her first serves on target in the second set, a statistic which even startled her. "I have been working on that, but I didn't believe even in my wildest dreams that I would serve 100 per cent. Oh, my."

Serena played that well, she claimed, because she needed the win. "I'm pretty low-ranked. For someone with my name to be No 10 is pretty absurd. I felt I didn't like the position I was in. If you're a slacker, you're just going to get slack results. But good things come to hard workers, like the ants."

The prospect of facing a sibling in one of her sport's four great finals did not faze Serena at all. "This is the US Open. In case you hadn't noticed, the winner gets $850,000 [£596,000]. So I don't have any problem trying to win." Nor was she fazed by the danger of that notorious addiction to shopping being over-exposed. "Probably the whole check will go, unfortunately, to Uncle Sam. My tax return right now is ridiculous."

Tax was also on her millionaire sister's mind, more so than the final. "I have nothing to prove in my life," said Venus. "All I have to do is live and pay my taxes." There was, however, something to prove last night.

The previous Battle of the Williamses, at Indian Wells in March, fizzled into discordant controversy when Venus pulled out of the semi-final in that Californian tournament against Serena, claiming a sudden injury. Serena was booed throughout her subsequent final victory over Kim Clijsters, provoking claims of racism from the Williams' father, Richard.

Serena called that incident "a pretty low blow", adding: "Even after I won, when I went out to accept the trophy, they booed. But it was a one-time incident. Who was it, Martin Luther King, said, 'A lie can't live forever'."

There were allegations of family collusion and undue influence by Richard Williams on that occasion in Indian Wells, but Venus claimed in New York yesterday: "Anyone who wrote or said that was very unprofessional. I take pride in my sport and my performance. I'm appalled that anyone would hint at something like that. That has never been the case and it never will be."

In fact, the parents are what has made all this possible, Venus insisted. "My dad has put a lot of work into this, a lot of hours, a lot of sacrifices on his part. Basically, it was my dad's dream, my mom's dream. They told us we would be here playing each other in the final one day. That's why we believed it. If they had told us we would never make it as tennis players I don't think we would be here today. So it all started with my parents giving us positive reinforcement."

As for which Williams would get to hold up the trophy, the whole family was united that it didn't really matter. "In their minds we have succeeded already," said Venus. "Not just with tennis but with being good citizens. That's all they wanted for us, to be happy with our lives and to do what we want. At this point we've done what we wanted, we have been successful and we're healthy. That's all they wanted from us."

Never mind the aces and the winners, Serena agreed. "Tennis is just a game and we're entertainers. After that, we go home. Venus will always be my sister and we're always going to be a family."

That said, Venus did admit to adapting something from Serena's game: her incredible will to fight. "In 1998 in Sydney Serena was down 1-6 0-5 yet she was fighting like it was her last day on earth. After that I realised I wasn't such a fighter. So I became a fighter, too."