Friday, July 4, 2008

Finally…the Sisters face each other

It’s been a while since they have met in the finals of a Slam – at least five years by my calculation. Time enough for them to ponder their relationship with the sport that has made them famous. Time enough to try on other careers, try out new boyfriends, and try to squash the image of their father, Richard, as puppet master deciding which sister gets to put which trophy on her mantle.
And with just a few ill-chosen words, Elena Dementieva erased all that and once again set tongues wagging and minds wondering. She said afterwards that something had been lost in translation, that she had meant to comment on the family “situation” not its “decision”. I would have believed her if this was the first time she had said this crap. It wasn’t. The difference on this occasion was that, with the passage of time and the absence of the Sisters from the winner’s circle, the audience has become a lot less receptive to Dementieva's insinuation.
As a grown-ass woman herself, I would have assumed Dementieva capable of understanding how offensive it is to imply that Venus and Serena, as two grown-ass women, cannot play their own matches but need their father to intervene and decide which one of them will win the next Slam. But the Russian would have us believe that the problem was her poor command of the English language. I wish I knew how to say bulls**t in Russian.

But all of this is distracting me from my celebratory mood. The Sisters are finally facing each other again in the finals of another Slam. Yeah!!!!
As a psychologist I can think of few dynamics more fascinating than the notion of two Sisters, at the top of their game, facing off in probably the biggest tournament of the season.
As a tennis player, I can only hope for as great a level of tennis as they played in the semi-finals against other opponents. The match between Serena and the spirited Jie Zheng of China was certainly as good as any Slam Finals.
But this level of play has rarely occurred between the Sisters. To this day I remember their very first finals at the Liptons. It was an awful match. In fact, it was one of the worst finals I have ever seen. The match was so bad it was almost funny. What made it difficult to laugh was the acute awareness that these were two sisters who adored each other, who were each other’s best friend, and each of whom was desperately trying to out-power the other from the baseline. In the end, Serena won. But forever after that the whispers started – that they faked injuries, that they took turns winning, and that it was Richard who decided whose turn it was to win.
Look, I am not a Williams insider. Few non-relatives have the privilege of being able to call themselves that. But as a younger sister myself, I can only imagine how tremendously difficult it would be to face either of my sisters in the finals of a tournament. I remember once playing tennis against a niece who herself had probably only been playing for about a year. It was the rain that saved me from a 6-0 spanking. I simply could not compete against her.
That Venus and Serena can do so at all is testimony to their tremendous mental strength. That Serena has a 5-1 winning record against her sister in the finals of Slams suggests that she may be the mentally stronger of the two. I certainly hope that she can find this inner strength to spank Venus for a ninth Slam trophy come Saturday.
And afterwards, it will be fascinating to watch them put aside all feelings of competitiveness against each other and combine their resources to play in the doubles finals against Raymond and Stosur. What remains breathtaking is their ability to do all of this while remaining sisters who love each other and have each other’s back. To that I can only say “wow”.

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