Venus Williams pulled off the upset on Saturday, beating No. 1 Serena Williams 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3 to advance to the Rogers Cup final. The match was the sisters' 25th meeting, but just the second in the last five years, having played each other for the first time on the pro tour 16 years ago. It was Venus' first win over Serena since 2009 and it snapped a five-match losing streak to her younger, more accomplished sister. Venus will play either Agnieszka Radwanska or Ekaterina Makarova in Sunday's final.
My take on Venus' big upset win:
Venus' tactical risk paid off: Last week at Stanford, Andrea Petkovic, who beat Venus in three sets in the quarterfinals before playing Serena in the semis, offered a clear distillation of the contrast in the sisters' styles. The German told reporters she felt like the match wasn't in her hands when she played Venus, who plays a much flatter ball and takes huge aggressive risks off the ground. Serena on the other hand, while blessed with huge power as well, can slip into playing rallies with more placement and margin and give her opponent an opportunity to get into rhythm. Serena's ability to play a more consistent game and defend when needed -- along with her second serve, which is head and shoulders better than Venus' -- is why she's been so dominant over the years. Her game can be off and she can win. That's not the case for Venus against elite players.
On Saturday, it was Venus' big risky game that won out. She stood well within the baseline to return Serena's serve and while that meant she got aced 19 times in the match -- 12 times in the tight first set -- it eventually paid off. It allowed her to be immediately aggressive off the first strike and draw nine double-faults over the course of three sets, several of which came in high-pressure moments. Off the ground, Venus was as consistent as she has been all year with her forehand. Serena was left defending and running more than she should. "I think the better players that I've played the last two months they make me raise my game," Venus said. "Serena makes me raise my game."
Venus finished with 35 winners to 23 unforced errors and Serena hit 32 winners to 20 unforced errors. That is an incredibly clean match between two of the biggest hitters in the game.
All hail Venus' resilience: This was Venus' third consecutive three-set match in three days and her ability to bounce back in under 24 hours for each match is the most impressive feat of the week. Regardless of how well she can play on any given day, her ability to recover and rebound in back-to-back matches has been a lingering concern since she was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome in 2011. After losing so many three set matches over the last two years and seeing her form dip in matches when under pressure, she needed matches to build her confidence but had to be mindful of her health. That left Venus in a frustrating limbo.
But after losing to Petra Kvitova in three tight sets at Wimbledon, Venus said she felt healthy and had every intention of playing frequently during the summer hard court season in preparation for the U.S. Open. Sure enough, in back-to-back weeks she's played eight matches and she's into her third final of the season and has a great chance to win what would arguably be her biggest title since 2010. She'll also rise into the top 20 and replace Sloane Stephens as the No. 2 American behind her sister. Not bad for a 34-year-old who admonished reporters for mentioning the "R" word last month.
Serena still working herself into form: The stat sheet says this was actually a fairly clean match from Serena. But her letdown after taking the first set was shocking. After serving 12 aces in the first set, she served just seven over the next two. After earning her only break of the match in the first set, she wasn't able to get into Venus' service games, earning just one break point over the final two sets. The strain and the doubt was apparent in her distraught looks to her box, and she had to stop herself from breaking her racket after Venus' converted on her second match point. It wasn't Serena's best day, but the emotional heft these matches carry can do that.