Serena Williams has won her first two matches since returning to professional singles play, but her opponent in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open from Indian Wells, Calif. is the one person she’d rather not play — her sister, Venus Williams.
“Obviously, I wish it was anybody else in the draw, literally anybody, but that’s OK,” Serena said ahead of the match. “Just have to go out there and see how I am and do my best.”
She bested Zarina Diyas in straight sets in her opener, a round that Venus didn’t even play in due to being seeded eighth and getting a first-round bye. Then she faced the tough Kiki Bertens, and Serena made it through that match in straight sets as well. She’s looked good — not quite as fast or powerful as she was pre-pregnancy, but she’s generally getting stronger as matches progress, and that’s hugely important.
The problem is having to go up against her sister, who has been defying time over the past couple seasons.
“She’s had such a good year last year and playing fantastic tennis,” Serena said of her sister. “But I have to play a seed regardless, sooner than later most times for the next couple of tournaments.
“So I have to be ready. Whether it’s Venus or anyone else, it’s going to be someone.”
Serena and Venus have faced each other 28 times in professional tournaments, the most recent being the Australian Open final in 2017. Serena won that, claiming her history-making 23rd Grand Slam win. Venus last beat Serena in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in 2014, in a two-hour, three-set match.
Williams Sisters rivalry, by the numbers
- Serena leads Venus, 17-11, all-time in singles matches
- Serena leads Venus, 10-5, in Grand Slam matches
- Serena leads Venus, 7-2, in Grand Slam finals
- Venus has held the world No. 1 ranking for a total of 11 weeks, Serena for 316
- Venus has 49 singles titles, Serena has 72
- Serena has 23 Grand Slam singles titles, Venus has 7
- The only two women during the open era to play each other in four consecutive Grand Slam finals (2002 French Open - 2003 Australian Open)
- The last time they were to play at Indian Wells against each other was 2001, when Venus was injured, causing Serena to advance to the final as a walkover, and resulting in a nasty incident where Serena claims the crowd threw a series of racial slurs at her, leading her to boycott the tournament for 14 years
- This is the earliest the Williams sisters have met in a tournament since the 1998 Australian Open, thanks to Serena being unseeded
- Together in doubles play, they have 14 Grand Slam titles, 3 Olympic gold medals and 22 titles total
Serena won the 2017 Australian Open final over Venus while about eight weeks pregnant, and from then on was inactive in singles competition until her opener at Indian Wells. She was expected to compete in the 2018 Australian Open but she withdrew after saying she wasn’t quite ready to return to professional singles competition.
Venus and Serena are scheduled to face each other after 2 p.m. ET on Monday, live on the Tennis Channel and streaming online at WatchESPN.