INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Venus Williams triumphed against younger sister Serena Williams in a blockbuster battle, needing just two sets to make her way into the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open, 6-3, 6-4.
The pair of former World No.1s were projected to meet in the third round in one of the tournament’s most awaited matchups - the earliest they’ve ever met in any tournament since the 1998 Australian Open second round.
Eight out of the pair’s last nine matches in their classic rivalry have been won by Serena, but tonight the circumstances are arguably different.
For Serena, it’s been just three professional matches after their last meeting at the 2017 Australian Open. She went on to step away from the game for over 14 months as she announced her pregnancy, giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in the fall.
“[Serena’s] level is super high and it was very difficult to close out the match, just getting one ball back,” Venus said in her post-match press conference.
“I think just I have played more matches in the last year. Even though I haven't even played that much this year, the matches in the last year count.”
Three deuce games in a row signalled the start of a tense opening set, the pair trading blows at the baseline and feeling out each other’s game.
Just one break of serve decided the opening set, with Venus grabbing it at 4-2. Serena employed her attacking game plan, stepping inside the court to return Venus’ serve, but ended up spraying too many unforced errors - she racked up 17 in just the first set alone, with the majority coming off the return.
Venus stayed solid and measured, carrying her momentum into the second set and reeling off the first three games to score back-to-back breaks. But the 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena fought her way back to cut Venus’ lead down to 3-2.
Venus marched ahead to extend her lead once more to 5-2, closing in on the finish line. She even brought up match point, but, with her back against the wall, Serena showed off her champion’s grit by breaking straight back.
But Venus still held the one break cushion, and managed to serve it out on the second time of asking, putting an end to the sisters’ titanic encounter after an hour and 24 minutes.
“I haven't played in over a year,” Serena said afterwards. “[Losing]’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.
“So I just have a long way to go, and I'm looking forward to the journey.”
Up next, Venus gets Anastasija Sevastova in the fourth round after the Latvian beat Julia Goerges in straight sets earlier in the day.