They didn’t have to do this.
Serena and Venus Williams, the only two active players in their 40s on the WTA tour, did not need to team up one final time and enter the doubles competition at the U.S. Open. There was nothing to prove, no reason to give tennis fans another chance to say goodbye to Serena, another chance to say “I was there.”
Yet, there they were making history again at the U.S. Open as they took on Czechs Linda Noskova and Lucie Hradecka in a first-round doubles match, the first to be held in prime time on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court. They lost 7-6 (5), 6-4, but gave the adoring crowd another exciting evening.
“It was Serena’s idea, she’s the boss,” explained Venus of the decision earlier in the tournament.
That’s a good thing because one had to wonder during the grueling first set, which the sisters lost in a tiebreak, if Serena was second-guessing her decision to squeeze in a doubles match.
While Venus was eliminated in the first round of the tournament, Serena has just 24 hours to rest up before facing Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in a third-round match tomorrow night.
Leading into Friday night, Serena-mania seems to be sweeping the sporting world.
More people turned in to watch Williams’ second-round upset of No. 2 of Anett Kontaveit Thursday than had ever watched an early round contest. The final 15 minutes of the match drew 5 million viewers, according to an ESPN press release, making it the most viewed broadcast or cable network among men and adults.
Serena, in what she has said will likely be her final tournament, is bringing in all kinds of new fans to tennis. According to Twitter, 30 percent of the users who have tweeted about Serena in August had not tweeted about tennis all year.
Tickets to Williams’ third-round match against Australian Ajla Tomljanovic Friday night have gone thr0ugh the roof on the secondary market. The cheapest possible ticket on StubHub Thursday night was $509. Want a courtside ticket with an unrestricted view? Those start at $5,695.
People were so crazy to witness history that the pair’s first round doubles match was sold out, something that isn’t even a guarantee for a doubles final.
Perhaps it is only right that the two sisters were on the court together for the tournament that Serena has indicated her last.
The two of have been a part of each other’s lives since Richard Williams began hitting balls to them at ages 4 and 3. Since bursting onto the tennis scene in the 1990s, the two have always had each other’s back. So much so, that Venus has refused to talk about her future tennis plans this week so that her younger spotlight-loving sister can be the sole focus.
Earlier in the week, Serena described Venus as “my rock’ and talked about how important it was to have her sister by her side for her celebration — even if Thursday night’s doubles match was more of an ordeal than either anticipated.
Hradecka, 37, and Noskova, 17, were playing their first tournament together, which was quite a contrast to the Williams sisters who have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, including two at the U.S. Open. This was their first competition however, since the French Open four years ago. And it showed.
Winning, however, may not have been the point of this match. The point was the two were on the court together one last time.
The struggle was shared, just like it had been for the last 27 years since Serena turned professional.