Serena Williams fought back from a set down and then a break in the final set to beat her sister Venus Williams in the 31st meeting of the most famous sibling rivalry in sport.
This was an unusual set of circumstances for the Williams sisters in Lexington, Kentucky.
The contest for large parts felt flat without fans – something, perhaps, that will just take some getting used to – while the Top Seed Open’s centre court is humble compared to the vast sporting arenas the two have faced off in before.
Still, there was no lack of competitive desire and, as in her opener against Bernarda Pera, Serena was forced to fight back.
After recovering from a set down, the 23-time Grand Slam champion fell 4-2 down in the decider before winning the final four games to win 3-6 6-3 6-4 and extend her head-to-head lead over her older sister to 19-12.
‘It was a very high quality match,’ said Serena, 38, after the match. ‘Venus is playing really, really good.
‘It was a lot of long points, running me around. Then at one point it was just big serves. I thought that was really interesting, we both starting serving well and then returning well. She was making some great forehands.
‘Her coach Eric [Hechtman] has done really well with her game, it’s inspiring really. I think it was really good.’
Venus, 40, has been encouraged by her return to the sport having been thrown into the deep end in back-to-back matches against former world No. 1s Victoria Azarenka and Serena.
‘I’m playing well. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tougher draw in my life,’ laughed Venus after the match.
‘I basically played two finals in a row. So it’s definitely an unbelievable experience to start the season this way.
‘Of course I wanted to play a little bit better today but overall, not a bad start.’
Serena will go on to face American wildcard Shelby Rodgers in the quarter-finals on Friday. Coco Gauff is also in action against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.
Once this event winds down, the players will be heading to New York for what will now be the second Grand Slam event of the year.
But the US Open will now have neither of its defending singles champions present, with Bianca Andreescu – who beat Serena in last year’s final – following Rafael Nadal in pulling out of the tournament.
‘After many discussions with those closest to me, I have made the difficult decision not to return to New York this year,’ Andreescu, the world No. 6 from Canada who has not played a competitive match since last October, posted on Instagram.
‘I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level. The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there.
‘However, I realise that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.
‘I want to express my appreciation to the USTA and the WTA for all of their efforts in making the event happen. I look forward to joining my competitors back on court soon.’
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