Serena played three matches following a 404-day break from the sport during which she had her first child, Olympia, and got married.
Playing with a protected ranking, but unseeded at tournaments, the luck of the draw pit Serena against Venus in the third round at Indian Wells.
It is the earliest they had faced off since the very first time they played against one another at the 1998 Australian Open (not including WTA Finals round-robin matches).
Here are the biggest takeaways from Serena and Venus’ 29th meeting…
RUSTY BUT NOT TOO MUCH
Serena is understandably rusty, which was evident from the 31 unforced errors she committed against Venus. But the 36-year-old wasn’t missing by much, producing 22 winners compared to her sister’s 19 and showcasing some deft touches with drop shots and lobs that briefly interrupted Venus’ rhythm.
VENUS CAN BRING IT ON DEMAND
Heading into Indian Wells, Venus had played just four matches in 2018, losing her openers in Sydney and the Australian Open and winning her two Fed Cup singles rubbers against the Netherlands. But just as we saw from her last season, she is able to up her game at the big events and when it matters the most. The 37-year-old played some of the best tennis we’ve seen from her in a while, with her all-out attack game working perfectly for most of the match.
The world No. 8 painted the lines with rocket-like groundstrokes and showed no signs of rust, despite her lack of match play this season.
“I think this is the best she’s played in a while. She didn’t make a lot of errors. She served very consistently. You know, she just did everything great. For her, I think it was a really good match,” said Serena on Venus after their match.
UP FOR THE FIGHT
One thing that is very apparent is that Serena is determined to make her way back to the top of the game. We’ve seen it on the court with her battling wins over Zarina Diyas and Kiki Bertens, as well as her loss to Venus on Monday. Serena saved 4/8 break points she faced, broke Venus as she was serving for the match the first time and created a break point opportunity in the final game before surrendering.
We’ve also been seeing it off the court in her rhetoric during press conferences.
“Missing shots that I never miss, and so close. At least they’re in the margin. I’m getting there. It’s not exactly where I want to be, but, I mean, I’ll get there eventually,” Serena said on Monday.
“I haven’t played in over a year. It’s definitely not less disappointing. I wish it were, but it’s not. But then again, I wish it wasn’t. Then I wouldn’t be who I am. Yeah, so I just have a long way to go, and I’m looking forward to the journey.”
She also seems to have the right person in her corner to help her throughout that journey, in her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
“If I expect a lot of myself, he expects a little bit more, which is interesting,” Serena said of Mouratoglou.
“But it’s good, because I have such high standards. And to work with someone that has even higher expectations is exactly what I need.”
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Venus Williams produced some sizzling form to ease past her sister Serena 6-3, 6-4 and reach the fourth round at Indian Wells on Monday.
It was just the second win for Venus in her last 10 matches against Serena, who was contesting her first tournament back from a 13-month maternity leave. Venus is now 17-12 overall against her sister.
Coming into Indian Wells, the 37-year-old Venus had played just four matches in 2018, winning two matches in Fed Cup against the Netherlands and losing her openers in Sydney and Melbourne.
Only three people had ever defeated Serena on the hard courts of Indian Wells – Alexia Dechaume-Balleret, Mary Pierce and Victoria Azarenka. On Monday, Venus became the fourth.
“She played so well, I think it’s such a treat for everyone to see this match so early in her comeback. I always know that it’s never over until it’s over. She kept roaring back. I’m just lucky that I’ve played more matches than her right now,” said Venus after the win on court.
“I’m from right down the street, in Compton, California. This just shows that wherever you come from, if you put in the work and you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”
The sisters sat back-to-back on a golf buggy transporting them to Stadium 1 – “carpooling to work” as emcee Andrew Krasny told the crowd waiting for them to arrive.
It was the earliest round the Williamses have faced each other since their first meeting in the 1998 Australian Open (not including WTA Finals round-robin matches).
Serena had won eight of their previous nine encounters, including last year’s Australian Open final in Melbourne that gave her a 23rd Grand Slam title.
The first two games alone took 14 minutes.
The eighth-seeded Venus served first and had to a save a break point before holding. Serena saved three break points in her opening service game to level for 1-all.
Venus drew first blood, breaking for 4-2 and she sealed the set with back-to-back aces.
A string of errors from Serena saw her get broken at the start of the second set. The 36-year-old tried to break the rhythm in the next game, brining in Venus to the net with a sublime drop shot and getting the winner with a cheeky lob. But the older sister still held then broke again for a 3-0 lead.
Another drop shot from Serena gave her a break point in the next game and the two-time champion converted with a blink-and-you-miss-it return winner.
A stunning point of sheer power and delicate placement from Venus saw her slam down a down-the-line forehand winner to get two break points in game seven and she regained her two-break advantage on her second opportunity with yet another winner.
She got her first match point on an error from her opponent but Serena saved it with a backhand passing shot.
Some great defence from Serena drew an overhead error from Venus and suddenly the younger sibling had a break point. A double fault from Venus handed over the break as Serena kept herself alive in the contest.
Serena held for 4-5, forcing Venus to try and serve out the match for a second time.
Some nervy errors saw Venus face a break point but she found her serve when she needed it and this time did not falter, converting on her second match point opportunity to wrap up the victory in one hour and 26 minutes and set up a fourth round against Anastasija Sevastova, the No. 21 seed.
Roger Federer has hailed the “longevity and dominance” of Serena and Venus Williams, who face-off in the Indian Wells third round on Monday, and believes Serena’s comeback from maternity leave could be the “story of the year”.
Federer, who at 36 is ranked No. 1 in the world and has won a 20th Grand Slam title last January, was born just a month before Serena.
The Williamses are arguably the most famous siblings in sporting history and Federer has been around the tour for most of their careers.
Serena captured an Open Era-record 23rd Grand Slam while pregnant at the Australian Open last year while Venus is 37 and made two major finals in 2017.
“Longevity and dominance. They showed that,” Federer said when asked what strikes him the most about the two sisters.
“They had a massive arrival on the scene, a lot of buzz around them, and they lived up to the hype. Came out and crushed it.
“From the very beginning, they were very interesting to follow. I think they hardly played any juniors, really, which made it more of a mystery, because you just didn’t know exactly what to expect from them. And coming from being coached by their dad. I mean, it’s an incredible fascinating story.”
Both Venus and Serena have overcome serious health problems only to come back stronger.
Venus is living with the auto-immune disease Sjogren’s Syndrome while Serena has a pulmonary embolism in 2011 and also suffered from serious complications last year after delivering her first child, Olympia, as several blood clots had settled in her lungs.
Serena is back on tour, making her first WTA appearance since January 2017 this week at Indian Wells, and takes on Venus in what would be their 29th career showdown.
“For many years we were worried that they were going to check out early with sickness or injuries,” Federer continued talking about the sisters.
“We weren’t sure if they’re going to play as long as we hoped them to play. And here we are. They are both over 35, 36, and still basically playing at the top. Serena being a mum now, Venus overcame a lot of also difficult situations and still playing.
“Being older again than Serena, myself, it’s wonderful to see and I’m very happy for them,especially now watching Serena’s comeback since the baby. I think that’s going to be a huge story, maybe the story of the year. Hopefully she decides to play a lot and enjoy herself in the process and get back to who knows how high? It almost doesn’t matter, but it would just be amazing to see her do it now.
“And then now they are facing off here tonight. I think it’s great for the sport and they have done so much already. This is like the extra lap they are doing and the fans can enjoy it. So I’m very happy for them.”