Serena Williams will play sister Venus for the 27th time as professional rivals in a US Open quarter-final Tuesday, but no prior matchup has had so much at history stake.
World number one Serena is three wins shy of completing the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 and taking a 22nd Slam singles title to match Graf’s Open Era record, two shy of Margaret Court’s all-time mark.
“I have to play Venus Williams next. I have to deal with that pressure first,” Serena said. “It’s not easy. I have to be really ready.”
Exactly 14 years to the day after they met in their first Grand Slam final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the sisters will return for their 14th career Grand Slam meeting, one that might be the toughest hurdle between Serena and a rare feat she has not achieved.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler. I think people love to see history being made,” Venus said. “But at the same time, you’re focused on winning your match.”
Serena, two years younger than Venus at 33, leads the Williams sibling rivalry 15-11 with an 8-5 edge in Grand Slam meetings, but they have split four US Open meetings, including Venus winning the 2001 final and Serena taking a 2002 rematch.
“The only player in the draw I don’t want to play, not only because she’s my sister, but for me she’s the best player,” Serena said of Venus.
“She has beaten me so many times. She’s a player that knows how to win, knows how to beat me and knows my weaknesses better than anyone.”
Venus wants to add to a trophy collection that includes the 2000 and 2001 US Opens and five Wimbledon titles, the most recent in 2008.
“I would love to. But it’s easier said than done,” Venus said.
“Even though you’re playing your sister you have to be prepared and focus. The preparation doesn’t change.”
Serena’s 32-match Grand Slam win streak includes a Wimbledon title run to complete a “Serena Slam” and make her the oldest major champion at age 33.
“There’s always another record, always another person to catch up with or pass,” Serena said. “I never really thought I would be in this position where I would even be talking about records.”
Serena, whose first “Serena Slam,” in 2002-03, came by beating Venus in four consecutive Slam finals, has won 25 US Open matches in a row since a 2011 final loss to Australian Samantha Stosur.
“I would rather lose to Venus as opposed to anyone else,” Serena said. “I, in general, don’t like to lose.
“We play a lot. She plays similar. She’s fast. I’m fast. She hits hard. I hit hard. She serves big. I serve big. It’s like playing a mirror,” Said Serena Williams.
Serena credits Venus, her only practice partner for years as a child, for helping her become as successful as she is.
“I think she helped create me, for sure,” Serena said. “She always won. Like always. I just remember I never was able to beat her.”
In their younger days, nerves and sisterly devotion made for some ugly matches, but with maturity they have put on sibling spectacles.
“It’s more fun than it used to be,” Serena said. “We really relish the opportunity. We’re both happy to still be involved in getting so far. And it’s still super intense. She’s doing well and she wants to win this. So do I. It’s not easy.”
It’s only their fourth meeting since 2009, with Serena taking the most recent matchup in the fourth round at Wimbledon in July and Venus winning the one before last year in a Montreal semi-final.
“It has been an amazing rivalry,” Serena said. “I think it has meant a lot. Venus and I have definitely proven that you can be enemies on the court and friends and sisters off the court.”
Tuesday could be one of the last great moments in the epic rivalry.
“It has helped the sport to grow because it has been such an unusual circumstance and so intriguing for everyone,” Venus said.
“That’s what we always wanted growing up, just to be out there on the big stage duking it out when someone named Williams will win.”