There was zero interaction between the two, not even a furtive glance, when Venus Williams walked past Serena Williams in the Top Seed Open's warmup area Thursday before their 31st matchup as pros.
Moments later, both headed to the court, each wearing a face-covering — Serena sporting a leopard print design, Venus with a light blue medical mask — and were greeted not by the roars of an appreciative audience but basically by silence. Zero fanfare because, well, there are zero fans at the first tennis tournament in the U.S. since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
When the match began, though, everything seemed normal: hard-hitting, big serving. Serena came back and won the last four games to beat her older sister, Venus, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a second-round match — 22½ years after the first between the two.
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Folks could be seen laying on the ground to peek through the opening at the bottom of the fence at the back of the court.
“It definitely felt more relaxed than the stadium at Wimbledon or at the U.S. Open,” said Serena, who now leads the all-in-the-family series 19-12. ”But it still is not like the practice courts."
When it ended, the siblings simply tapped rackets. No handshake or hug, owing to rules about social distancing. Another sign of the times: There was a “Black Lives Matter” stencil on the wall behind the baseline.
It was a back-and-forth contest, with each woman appearing to move out in front until the other pulled even. Make no mistake: The competitive juices were flowing. In the first set, Serena questioned an overrule by the chair umpire that granted Venus an ace.
“This was a real match with real points and real consequences,” said Venus, who owns seven Grand Slam singles titles, 16 fewer than Serena's 23.
Serena broke right away and led 2-0, but Venus responded by grabbing five games in a row on the way to taking the opening set. Then Serena regrouped to win the second.
With the temperature at 90 degrees and high humidity, the heat rule was in effect, so there was a 10-minute break after the second set. Venus took advantage, leaving the court, but Serena stayed put.
In the third, Venus went ahead 4-2 thanks to a three-game run. Naturally, Serena came back, earning the break for a 5-4 lead with the help of one of Venus' 11 double-faults and closing it with a running, down-the-line backhand from wide of the doubles alley that capped a 12-stroke exchange.
“I just ran out of time there, is kind of what it felt like,” Venus said.
Venus is 40, and Serena turns 39 next month, making their combined age the highest in a WTA match since 2004, when Martina Navratilova, 47, played Amy Frazier, 31.
The top-seeded Serena next faces American wild-card entry Shelby Rogers, a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Canadian qualifier Leylah Fernandez.
Jil Teichmann advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 5 seed Yulia Putintseva. Teichmann now plays CiCi Bellis, who eliminated Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-2.