Serena forced to bend knee to sibling rival

Injury and busy schedule take toll on world No 1 as Venus triumphs in semi-final

By the end her injured right knee was creaking almost as badly as her serve, but Serena Williams still proved a formidable adversary for the player she regards as her most dangerous opponent here last night. Venus Williams won their semi-final in the Barclays Dubai Championships 6-1, 2-6, 7-6 to take a 10-9 lead in meetings between the two sisters. Venus faces the unseeded Virginie Razzano in today’s final.

Having pulled out halfway through last week’s indoor tournament in Paris, Serena nearly did not play here. She nursed her knee through her first three matches, but by the midway point of a hard-hitting contest with her sister it was clearly affecting her game. Her serve and backhand went particularly awry, but the world No 1 is such a fierce competitor that she still made a match of it.

The Williams sisters have usually been careful not to play too heavy a schedule, but in the first seven weeks of the season Serena has played four tournaments and 19 matches in three different continents. She will rest before her next tournament, in Miami, at the end of next month.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played this many tournaments in my career and so consistently,” she said. “I’m looking forward to having a little time off.”

It was Serena’s fifth defeat in her last seven meetings with her sister. Asked whether it mattered that Venus now led in their head-to-head record, she started listing her Grand Slam titles, which number 10 to Venus’s seven. “That’s what counts,” she said.

Venus, who is playing only her second tournament of the year, served beautifully throughout. Her only regret was that the match had not been the final. “It was definitely a final-quality match,” she said. “I think Serena and I are the best in the world.”

The first set took just 20 minutes. While Venus found an immediate rhythm on her serve and groundstrokes, Serena could barely put the ball in court. She made six double-faults in the set, by the end of which she was hitting first serves at second-serve pace simply to get the ball in play.

From 1-0 down in the second set, however, Serena’s game clicked and she took it with something to spare. The younger sister led 3-1 in the final set, but Venus broke back to level at 3-3, having made a successful Hawk-Eye challenge to a Serena “winner” when the latter was on game point. At 5-5 Venus saved two break points and went on to win the tie-break 7-3. It was only the second occasion in their 19 meetings that the outcome has been decided by a tie-break.

“My serve has been off all year,” Serena said. “I think it’s been on vacation, so I’ll have to catch up with it. I don’t think I’ve served as many double-faults in a whole tournament as I did in the first set. I felt Venus served really well and I think that ultimately helped her to win the match.”

Venus, who will climb to No 5 in next week’s world ranking list, has won two of her three previous matches against Razzano, though the world No 58 came out on top in their most recent meeting, in the final of the Japan Open two years ago. Having already beaten Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva, Nos 2 and 5 in the world respectively, Razzano continued her remarkable week when she beat Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 6-2 to reach the final.

* Anne Keothavong is poised to become the first British woman to reach the world’s top 50 since Jo Durie in 1993 after reaching the semi-finals in Memphis. She was due to play top seed Caroline Wozniacki last night.

19

The Williams sisters have now met 19 times, with Venus holding the edge, 10 wins to nine.

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