Williams sisters set up historic showdown

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Barring illness or accident, Venus and Serena Williams will tonight become the first sisters to contest a singles final at one of the world's major championships since Maude Watson defeated her elder sister, Lilian, in the inaugural Wimbledon women's final in 1884.

The cautionary note is made in view of the controversy that followed Venus's withdrawal from the semi-finals of the Indian Wells tournament in March this year when she was due to play Serena. Although Venus was coughing at times during her 6-4, 6-2 win against Jennifer Capriati in the semi-final of the United States Open yesterday, unlikely that there will be a repetition here.

Serena almost toyed with Martina Hingis in dispatching the top seed, 6-3, 6-2, after 51 minutes to advance to the final. The ease of the victory – embarrassing at times – indicated how much Williams has improved and Hingis has declined since the Australian Open in January, when the Swiss defeated Serena and her sister, Venus, back-to- back before losing to Jennifer Capriati in the final.

Hingis had no answer to the younger Williams yesterday, chiefly because her serve appears to be getting weaker rather than stronger, and her confidence has been drained by her inability to add to her five Grand Slam singles titles, the last of which was won at the 1999 Australian Open.

Williams, in contrast, served 10 aces among 40 winners yesterday. Her 18 unforced errors paled when set against Hingis's match statistics: five winners, eight unforced errors.

Both players are due to mark birthdays before the end of the month – Hingis her 21st, Williams her 20th. The Williams sisters may not contribute as much in the regular tournaments on the WTA Tour – hence the reason why Hingis has spent so long at No 1 – but they are able to eclipse Hingis in the main events. Serena, it may be remembered, defeated Hingis in straight sets in the 1999 US Open final.

Serena won the first set in only 25 minutes yesterday. Hingis lost seven of the first eight points as she searched for a way to counter her opponent's weight of shot. Hitting returns down the middle in an attempt to minimise Williams' opportunities to create angles failed to stem the American's flow of shots, and Williams continued to hit winners when challenged to move and stretch for the ball.

Having lost the opening two games, Hingis surprised everyone in the stadium, not least her opponent, by breaking for 1-2, forcing and error on Williams' backhand on the third break point. Williams' response was immediate. Encouraged when Hingis double-faulted to 0-30, Williams pounced to recover the break, hitting a backhand volley on the final point.

Williams hit two aces to hold for 4-1, and put Hingis' serve under pressure until the Swiss hit a forehand wide and a backhand over the baseline to break again for 5-1. Probably overconfident at this stage, Williams was broken to 15 when serving for the set. She made amends two games later, delivering three aces in winning the ninth game.

In the second set, Hingis managed to stay in touch until the fifth game – her worst of the match – when she double-faulted to be broken to love. Although Hingis managed to reach deuce before losing serve for 2-5, she was little more than cannon fodder as Williams served out the match, hitting two more aces and an unreturnable serve. "I've come back, everybody!" she called out, just in case anybody was in doubt.

Hingis found herself surrounded by doubters from the moment she arrived in New York. Continually questioned about her featherweight serve, she was adamant that she has tried to beef up the first and second deliveries but has so far been unable to prove it away from the practice courts.

Capitalising on Jelena Dokic's persistence in over-hitting when faced with Hingis's intelligent shot selection in the fourth round, the Swiss then made her experience count against the Czech teenager Daja Bedenova, in the quarter-finals. Yesterday, however, the world No 1 was out of her depth.