Serena Williams is not expecting to be the darling of Centre Court any time soon. Booed and jeered at times in her dramatic win over Heather Watson on Friday evening, the younger Williams sister was extraordinarily gracious about an over-patriotic crowd.
And on Monday, when she takes on her elder sister in her quest for the Serena Slam — the chance to hold all four Grand Slam titles at one time for the second time in her career —she still is not expecting to feel the warm embrace of the crowd.
‘I expect more people to be rooting for Venus,’ she said. ‘I would be rooting for Venus. She’s been through so much. She’s had a wonderful story and been so inspiring to me. She’s just an incredible individual and been so inspiring to a lot of people.’
None of which can be disputed, with Serena citing her sister’s comebacks from illness and injury as well her fight for equal pay at Wimbledon. But Serena, 33, is chasing Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam wins, which she will match if she wins here and at the US Open. That would add a calendar Grand Slam to her CV, not achieved since Graf did it in 1988.
While the enthusiasm for Watson was understandable, some of the partisanship clearly crossed the line. Serena was reluctant to say as much but when pushed she acknowledged the fact. ‘I work really hard,’ she said.
‘I come here to compete, like hundreds of other players here. That’s all I do. I’m happy to be here. I want to bring my skills to the greatest tournament on the planet. I just think people have to realise that that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about jeering. I would never do that.’
Monday sees the resumption of the longest rivalry in women’s tennis. The Chris Evert/Martina Navratilova era lasted 15 years from 1973. The Williams first played each other 17 years ago at the Australian Open and have met at eight Grand Slam finals. ‘That’s pretty crazy,’ said Serena. ‘It’s ridiculous.’
Between them at Wimbledon they have 10 singles and five doubles titles. The longevity is extraordinary. ‘We’re both more mature,’ said Venus, 35. ‘Still as tenacious. Back then we were definitely fun to watch. I think we still are.’
But what once was a tough match to contemplate for both sisters has become routine. In 2001, when their father Richard was accused of having undue influence on his daughters’ matches — always denied by the family — there was fury at the Indian Wells WTA tournament when Venus pulled out of a semi-final against Serena at the last minute.