The 30th edition Venus vs. Serena may not have been the most memorable match, but it did show us one thing: If Serena Williams wasn't already considered the favorite to win the U.S. Open, she should be now.
It was far from their most memorable match, nor their most significant but Serena Williams still managed to electrify Arthur Ashe Stadium during Friday night’s third-round U.S. Open meeting against Venus Williams, playing her best tennis since giving birth to her daughter last September and asserting herself as the favorite to win the tournament.
In the 30th meeting between the two sisters, Serena dismantled Venus 6-1, 6-2 in an hour and 12 minutes. She overwhelmed her older sister with her trademark combination of power and poise, smashing 10 aces and 34 winners. She faced just one break point, which she saved. The scoreline tied the most lopsided result between the two sisters. It was as close to a flawless performance from the 23-time Grand Slam winner.
“I think it’s the best match she’s ever played against me,” Venus, 38, said.
Which, considering their 36-year history together, is really saying something. (Serena: “I think it's by far the best match I ever played against her in forever. But I don't know about ever, ever.”) In the annals of this rivalry—one that spans two decades, 16 Grand Slam meetings and 30 combined major titles—Friday night will go down as a footnote. But in the context of this tournament, Serena’s convincing performance makes her the clear favorite to win the women’s draw.
That Serena, 36, is showing signs of her pre-maternity leave form isn’t a good sign for the rest of the field. She was already a favorite, if not the favorite, to win the tournament after reaching the Wimbledon final in July, though she lost two of three matches during the hard-court swing before the U.S. Open. And now she just played her best match in nearly two years.
“Obviously, I played much better today than I actually have since I’ve returned to tennis,” Williams said after the match in an on-court interview.
It helps that she won’t have to play No. 1 Simona Halep. For that bit of good fortune, Serena can thank Kaia Kanepi, who knocked out Halep on the tournament’s first day. Serena and Kanepi will meet Sunday for the first time since the 2014 U.S. Open, when the former prevailed 6-3, 6-3 in the round of 16. If she beats Kanepi, she’ll play either Karolina Pliskova or Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals.
Whether Serena adds a 24th Grand Slam title remains to be seen. But Friday was about the best story in sports: these remarkable sisters and their reluctant rivalry.
“It’s not easy,” Serena said. “She’s my best friend.”