WIMBLEDON, England — The most unusual and, at times, uncomfortable rivalry in tennis is once more in the spotlight at the pinnacle of the sport: Venus Williams plays younger sister Serena on Saturday in their third all-in-the-family Wimbledon final.
It's their seventh Grand Slam title match — Serena holds a 5-1 edge — but first final at any event since 2003, at Wimbledon.
"We're going to stop talking to each other now until the final," Serena joked after the sisters easily won their semifinals in straight sets Thursday.
Not talking would be difficult. For one thing, the sisters are in the doubles semifinals today. For another, they're sharing an apartment during the tournament.
"It would have been kind of weird if we didn't talk to each other," Serena said, then added mischievously: "Maybe I should try that. It will be like really intimidating or something."
The siblings' paths to their 16th head-to-head matchup — Serena leads 8-7 — were remarkably similar.
Neither has lost a set in the tournament. Defending champion Venus, seeded seventh, won her semifinal 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) over fifth seed Elena Dementieva to advance to her seventh Wimbledon final and a chance for her fifth title. Serena hit 14 aces in a 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) victory over 133rd-ranked Zheng Jie of China. Each Williams won 80 of the 141 points in her match.
"I'm definitely surprised," Serena said of the five-year gap of the sisters meeting in a Grand Slam final. "… But it's good. I mean, this is a new start for us."
Many of their matches against each other have been error-filled, awkward affairs in which neither the crowd nor the combatants were able to give full throat to their emotions. During their French Open final in 2002, one spectator summed up the confusion by shouting, "Allez (Come on) Serenus!"
There have been past suggestions, never proven, that the Williamses decided within their tennis family which sister would win when they played. The Williamses have always scoffed at such allegations, but the issue resurfaced Thursday when Dementieva analyzed the final by saying "For sure, it's going to be a family decision."
In 2001 at a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Dementieva was one of the players who created early concern by saying of their father, Richard Williams, "I think he will decide who is going to win tomorrow" before his daughters played in a semi.
Venus reacted angrily to any suggestion of an arranged result. "I find the question pretty offensive, because I'm extremely professional in everything that I do on and off the court," she said. "I contribute my best in my sport, and I also have a ton of respect for myself and my family."
Dementieva, a Russian, later issued a statement saying she had been misunderstood because her English is not good: "I do not think for one second that matches between Serena and Venus Williams are family decisions. What I meant was it is a unique situation for a family to be in, to be playing for a Grand Slam title. I cannot imagine what it must be like. I have a lot of respect for Serena and Venus."