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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, March 10, 2018


Serena Williams defeated Kiki Bertens, 7-6 (5), 7-5, to set up an Indian Wells blockbuster vs. older sister Venus Williams.

Photo credit: Dan Huerlimann/Beelde Images

INDIAN WELLS—Beneath a murky afternoon sky, sisterly stars aligned in the desert.

Two-time champion Serena Williams was tested in two tight sets subduing Kiki Bertens, 7-6 (5), 7-5, to set up a BNP Paribas Open third-round blockbuster against older sister Venus.

More: By The Numbers

It will be the 29th career meeting between the sisters, who grew up in Compton, California, and their earliest encounter since their first professional meeting at the 1998 Australian Open.

"I think it's a huge difference to play her in the semifinals or even the quarterfinals or a final as opposed to the third round," Serena said. "You know, we can always stay in the tournament longer if, you know, the both of us are in the tournament. And having to play each other in the third round, one of us is going to be gone. So it's definitely a lot easier to play later on."

Serena holds a 17-11 lead over Venus in their head-to-head series and concedes she seldom makes eye contact with her older sister when they square off.

“I hate playing her because she gets this look on her face where she just looks sad if she’s losing,” Serena told Vogue Magazine last month. “Solemn. It breaks my heart. So when I play her now, I absolutely don’t look at her, because if she gets that look, then I’ll start feeling bad, and the next thing you know I’ll be losing. I think that’s when the turning point came in our rivalry, when I stopped looking at her.”

Today, Venus Williams looked more convincing sweeping Sorana Cirstea, 6-3, 6-4, in 79 minutes for her first Tour-level victory of the year.

The No. 8-seeded Venus wreaked havoc on the Romanian’s serve.

Venus broke serve six times and won 21 of 26 points played on Cirstea’s second serve.

Serena has won eight of the sisters’ last nine meetings, including a 6-4, 6-4 sweep in their last clash at the 2017 Australian Open final though Venus says she’s applied forward-thinking to their meetings now.

“A lot of people would like to be better than Serena, a lot of people are not,” Venus said. “I think no one wants to play her—that’s for sure. Outside of that, I don’t necessarily look back, I look forward.

“When our days align, then we’ll hit balls. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s a lot of fun. She has a desire and I think for her it’s just about feeling healthy so as long as that happens she’s okay.”

Serena has been a semifinalist or better in 17 of her last 22 tournaments, but has understandably endured some labor pains in her return to tournament tennis after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr. last September.

Playing her first match in 404 days, Serena defeated Zarina Diyas, 7-5, 6-3, in her opening-round match.

Though she's moved well in her comeback match, the 23-time Grand Slam champion sprayed some running forehands and conceded missing some mid-court balls she usually makes “nine times out of ten.”

The Serena serve, typically one of the most formidable weapons in the sport, hasn’t quite been so sharp this week.

Bertens hit six more aces (seven to one) and converted four of 10 break points today, including breaking at 15 when Williams served for the match at 5-4.

Striking with aggression, the 26-year-old Dutchwoman broke for 2-1. Bertens banged an ace down the T holding at love for 3-1.

Williams broke back in the sixth game, but the Bertens forehand was a damaging shot as she bolted a return winner down the line breaking back for 4-3.

Power baseliner Bertens lid an ace for 5-3 and served for the set at 5-4, but Williams whipped a backhand winner down the line breaking back in the 10th game.

The Dutchwoman could not stay in step in the tie break clanking a double fault and committing successive errors as Williams earned triple set point.

On her third set point, Williams seized the 55-minute set on a wild, wide forehand from her opponent.

The pair traded breaks in the third and fourth games of the second set.

The Bertens forehand failed her again as Williams broke for 5-4, but one of the game’s best closers could not finish.

Williams broke for 6-5 then dug out of a double break point bind to close in one hour, 52 minutes.

Seventeen years ago, the sisters from Compton California were scheduled to meet in the Indian Wells semifinals when Venus withdrew shortly before the match with injury to advance to the 2001 final. Some fans booed and jeered Serena in the final against Kim Clijsters, prompting the world No. 1 to take a 14-year sabbatical from the tournament. "I honestly never thought about it," Serena said when asked if she's pleased the sisters will finally face-off in Indian Wells. "So again, I would prefer to play someone else, anybody else, literally anybody else, but it has to happen now. So it is what it is."

The 37-year-old Venus summed up her approach to the sisterly rematch simply.

“She's playing really well and just honing her game,” Venus said of Serena. “When she's missing, it's not by much. Obviously I have to play better than her and see how the match goes.”


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