Novak Djokovic salutes supreme Williams sisters

Venus Williams beat Annett Kontaveit to set up a clash with sister Serena. Picture: Getty
Venus Williams beat Annett Kontaveit to set up a clash with sister Serena. Picture: Getty
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NOVAK Djokovic has no idea how they do it, but today the Williams sisters will go into battle for the 27th time in their careers, with a place in the US Open semi-finals at stake.

Venus and Serena have been in this position for the past 17 years. They first played each other on the professional circuit in 1998 at the Australian Open (Venus won that one) and in those days, the elder sister was clearly the better player. But it did not take Serena long to assert her authority and now, all these years later, Serena leads their rivalry 15-11 and has lost only once to Venus since 2009.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is how would I feel to play my brother, and I don’t think that would be possible, honestly,” Djokovic said. “I admire what they’re doing for so many years to play against each other on such a big stage.

“They both were No 1’s of the world. Chapeau for that. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to play my brother. It’s not possible. I would not be able to handle on the court.”

Given that Djokovic is one of the most fearsome competitors on the tour, it gives some clue as to what the Williams sisters have had to overcome as they have both made their way to the top of the game. But this time, there is even more pressure on the match. This is not just a grand slam quarter-final, this match could be a part of history.

If Venus were to win, she would stop Serena’s Grand Slam challenge. Serena already holds all four major titles – the Serena Slam – but if she were to retain her US Open trophy, she would have won all four grand slam titles in the space of one calendar year – and that has not been done since 1988 when Steffi Graf reigned supreme. Chances like this do not come around often and at the age of 33, Serena may never be in this position again. Now Venus stands in her way, threatening to spoil the party.

“I’m playing, for me, the best player in the tournament, and that’s never easy,” Serena said. “She’s beaten me so many times. I’ve taken a lot of losses off of her – more than anybody. Yeah, she’s a player that knows how to win, knows how to beat me, and knows my weaknesses better than anyone. So it’s not an easy match at all. Hopefully things will go right.”

Serena keeps claiming to be calm and relaxed and able to ignore the hoopla that has followed her through the season. But she has looked nervous and tight in the past week, particularly in the early rounds. Then again, Serena is a champion like no other: she gets nervous, as anyone would, but once she gets into the latter stages of the major events, she is unstoppable.

Since starting to work with Patrick Mouratoglou in 2012, she has won eight of her 21 major titles. In that time she has lost only one grand slam quarter-final, to Sloane Stephens at the Australian when she had a sprained ankle and could barely move. When Serena gets to the last eight, she tends to win the title.

Venus, meanwhile, has been tiptoeing through the draw and on Sunday she flattened Anett Kontaveit from Estonia 6-2, 6-1. She is used to playing second fiddle to her younger sister but, at the age of 35, she knows this could be one of her last chances to reach a US Open semi-final.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler,” Venus said.

“I think people love to see history being made. I think. No one is out to be a spoiler, but at the same time, you’re focused on winning your match even though the circumstances [are not focused on you].”

It is no wonder Djokovic cannot understand how the Williams sisters do it.