Both sisters moved into the third round with straight set wins on Saturday
Everyone can breath a sigh of relief: the Serena vs. Venus showdown is happening at the BNP Paribas Open. On Saturday, Venus eased past Sorana Cirstea, 6-3, 6-4, while Serena fought hard to take out Kiki Bertens, 7-6 (5), 7-5.
“I’m getting there. I have such a long way to go,” Serena said. “It definitely felt better than the first round, but I’m still a little rusty. I’m still making errors that I don’t normally make. But I call this a trial run.”
The Williams sisters have never played in the Californian desert, and last faced off in the Australian Open final last year (which Serena won in straight sets). Monday’s third-round showdown will take place 17 long years after the first time the two were scheduled to play in Indian Wells, and it’ll serve as yet another homecoming.
“I would prefer to play someone else, anybody else, literally anybody else, but it has to happen now,” Serena said. “So it is what it is.”
Venus entered Indian Wells with little match play in 2018, having not competed since a first-round exit in Melbourne. But Serena, of course, is significantly rustier. The 36-year-old is making her comeback after 14 months away, having given birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in September—with complications.
“I’m playing with nothing to lose and only to gain. For me, its a real joy to be out here,” Serena said. “Sometimes I think about those moments. I was in the hospital not even realizing how serious it was until later. Just being able to come through that makes me feel like no matter what happens I know that I’m capable of being strong.
“Whether I win or lose, there’s so much more to my life.”
The world No. 8-ranked Venus should have the advantage on Monday. While Serena was away, she put together an impressive 2017 season (reaching both the Wimbledon and Singapore finals). The fact that the 37-year-old hasn’t played since January can be spun into a great thing: she’s fresher, hungrier and taking great care to manage her schedule.
“I think she’s playing great compared to when she was younger,” Serena said. “Obviously she’s a lot better now, a lot, lot, lot better. But she’s just always been someone that I have admired both on the court and off the court.”
On Friday, Bertens put Serena to the test. The world No. 29 had her nose out in front for most of the first set, even holding a 5-3 lead. Serena stepped up to the challenge, forcing a tiebreak in the first, and maintaining her momentum in the second. Uncharacteristically, she needed two service games to close out the match.
“She’s playing really well and just honing her game,” Venus said about Serena. “When she’s missing, it’s not by much. Obviously, I have to play better than her and see how the match goes.”
After her first win over Zarina Diyas this week, Serena said from “zero to Serena” she was at an “S.” You can almost literally see Serena shaking off the rust, and her form is already improving match by match. On top of that, the new mother’s attitude may be better—and looser—than ever.
“I’m not putting too much—right now for this particular tournament,” Serena said. “I’m trying to really take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself. I feel like it’s one of the first times I’ve been able to do that.”