The WTA and ATP event this week is sponsored by Rogers Communication, a telecom giant, but it’s also serving as product placement for time travel. After wins from both Serena and Venus Williams at the Rogers Cup on Friday, setting up Williams Bowl XXV, it feels a lot like 2002 or so, as one reader put it.
As was the case in their meatiest years of their estimable careers, Venus (now 34 years old) and Serena (closing in on 33) each got this far with a combination of shotmaking and mental impregnability. Serena needed three sets, but got past her friend Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. Venus followed that up by beating Carla Suarez Navarro on the same court, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Saturday’s match marks their first matchup since Charleston in 2013, but only their second head-to-head meeting since the WTA championships in 2009. Serena leads their career head-to-head 14-10, and has won their last five matchups.
"I definitely don't like playing her -- I think I've lost to her more than anyone else on the tour," Serena said after her match. "So it's definitely not a fun match for me, to be honest. But she's tough. She has a great serve. She runs every ball down. She has a great backhand. She hits winners off the forehand.
"She just does everything well, so it's not an ideal match-up for anyone, to be honest."
The re-ascent of Venus has been on everyone's minds in tennis this summer. Just a few months removed from seniors tour eligibility, she is playing her best tennis in recent memory. At Wimbledon, Venus came within a few points of beating Petra Kvitova, the eventual champion, in perhaps the best match of the tournament. Encouraged -- not dispirited -- by that result, Venus has continued her rise through the hard-court season this summer, playing long matches in sometimes challenging conditions. She's sustained both her focus and fitness, and has summoned her best tennis at the most critical times. (The late stages of her fourth-round against Germany’s Angelique Kerber was a clinic in clutch play.)
There's no doubt that this surge is immensely gratifying for Venus, and as it should be. After years of results unbecoming for a player of her record -- some of this owing to her autoimmune disease -- she’s back in the WTA’s top 20 come Monday. But even that understates it. She is now picking off top players left and right, all the while gathering confidence. Playing at full strength on a preferred surface, and granted a day off between matches, suddenly she must be considered a real threat at the U.S. Open, an event she last won in (gulp) 2001.
In a flipping of the usual script, Venus is eclipsing Serena, but the renaissance of Williams the Younger is significant, too. When the casual fan last saw Serena she was, of course, stumbling around the court in a Wimbledon doubles match, one of the stranger tennis interludes you will ever see (which is saying something.) This was supposed to be the year Serena supplanted Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and continued to mount tennis’ summit. Instead, 2014 was shaping up as a disaster, punctuated by the debacle at Wimbledon.
Serena, though, returned and won last week at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., which was as much a source of relief as jubilation. And she has continued her streak in Montreal. As though it were fine China she only unfurls for special occasions, Serena has yet to break out her best tennis, but that she is fighting through the tough matches and playing courageous tennis, which might be the best sign of all. Williams plays Williams tomorrow. They have both already won.