“I wish it was anybody else in the draw, literally anybody, but that’s OK,” Serena Williams said at a news conference Saturday after her 7-6 (5), 7-5 second-round victory over 29th-seeded Kiki Bertens of Netherlands that set up the match-up at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “Just have to go out there and see how I am and do my best.”
This will be the 29th time the sisters have played each other in a Women’s Tennis Association match and first since the final of last year’s Australian Open, when Serena Williams was a 6-4, 6-4 winner. She has won each of the last three matches and leads the series, 17-11.
This is the first time the siblings will play each other at the BNP Paribas Open. They were supposed to meet in a semifinal in 2001, but Venus pulled out due to a knee injury. The announcement drew boos from fans, who expressed doubt that she was indeed injured. At a news conference that day, Elena Dementieva was asked who would have won the match between the sisters. She said their father, Richard, would probably decide — an insinuation that their matches were rigged.
“The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply,” Serena Williams wrote in a 2015 column published on the website Time.com announcing that would return to the tournament that year, ending a 14-year boycott. “The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.”
When Serena Williams played in that year’s tournament final — which she won — she was booed throughout the match.
Serena Williams said on Saturday she “literally didn’t even think about” the canceled 2001 match.
“That’s, you know, totally gone out of my mind,” she said. “First of all, 17 years ago seems like forever ago. Yikes.”
This is the earliest the sisters will be playing in a tournament since the 1998 Australian Open, when they met in the second round. Most of their matches have come in finals or semifinals.
The early meeting is the result of Serena Williams being unranked and not being among the tournament’s 32 seeded female players because of her maternity leave. She has won both her matches in straight sets.
“It’s a huge difference to play her in the semifinals or even the quarterfinals or a final as opposed to the third round,” she said. `We can always stay in the tournament longer if the both of us are in the tournament. Having to play each other in the third round, one of us is going to be gone. So it’s definitely a lot easier to play later on.
Venus Williams, speaking Saturday before her sister’s match, said: “She’s playing really well and just honing her game. When she’s missing, it’s not by much.”
–City News Service
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