Fans are in a frenzy over the chance to see Serena and Venus Williams go head-to-head on the tennis court for what could be the final time ever.
Serena Williams returned to action for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak upended the tennis calendar on Tuesday, defeating Bernarda Pera to set up a second-round clash with sister Venus.
GOING AHEAD: Aus Open's plan for 400,000 fans amid virus crisis
The No.1 seed will face Venus at the Top Seed Open in Lexington after her unseeded sister beat former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-2 in her first-round match.
The siblings will meet each other for the 31st time when they take the court on Thursday (local time).
“It's so special,” Venus said. “Here we go again.”
It will a chance for the two former No. 1-ranked women and owners of 30 grand slam singles titles between them (23 for Serena; seven for her older sister) to gauge where their games are following about six months away from the sport - and a chance for tennis fans to remember what they've been missing while the tours were suspended because of the coronavirus.
“I haven't played in forever, so I want to play the best players,” Venus said with a laugh, then added: “And I think I got my wish in playing Serena.”
This will be a far way from the sorts of stages that have hosted these two stars in the past, including nine Williams v Williams matchups in grand slam singles finals, including four in a row from 2002-03.
Serena leads the rivalry 7-2 in those contests, and 18-12 overall.
“I feel like I always play Venus in every single tournament, first or second round,” Serena said after needing to put together a comeback to beat 60th-ranked Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
“So that's annoying.”
Actually, it’s been nearly two full years since the sisters’ last meeting, a third-rounder at the 2018 US Open that Serena won 6-1, 6-2.
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) August 12, 2020
Preparing for Venus and Serena pic.twitter.com/jR0KBsUKA2
— All Things Serena (@all_serena) August 12, 2020
Omo Serena vs Venus tomorrow
— OG (@tune_og) August 11, 2020
Can Venus upset her kid sis or will it be business as usual for Serena? Venus has beaten Serena in 2 of their last 4 matches, I wouldn’t rule her out yet! pic.twitter.com/YZDAt5UK0n
— Mr Banks (@Mrbankstips) August 12, 2020
This will be the FOURTH DECADE(!) Venus and Serena play against each in a professional match.
— Foot Faulting In Lexington Tennis (@footfaulttennis) August 11, 2020
Serena Williams overcomes early wobbles
Serena made a wobbly start in the first set against Pera but quickly found her footing, firing off seven aces and saving 11 of 13 break points to win.
“It's good just in general because I haven't played. A lot of players have been playing - little things and little matches and playing against other players - but I've only been training so this was really good for me,” said Serena, who has also committed to playing in the August 31-September 13 US Open.
The Top Seed Open, the first WTA Tour tournament in the US since the COVID-19 outbreak halted play, provided a taste of what is to come for the 38-year-old American as she bids for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title in Flushing Meadows, with empty, silent stands taking the place of roaring crowds.
“I've been through so many things in my career so this was totally different,” said Serena, who devoted a lot of her time off to deepening her faith through bible study.
“Being in New York will be a little different because there's this massive stadium,” she added.
American teenage phenomenon Coco Gauff also progressed by beating compatriot Caroline Dolehide in straight sets, setting up a clash with 22-year-old second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
But Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic and former US Open champion Sloane Stephens are out.
Tomljanovic was beaten by Kazakhstan's Yulia Putinseva 6-0 6-4 while Canadian Leylah Fernandez defeated Stephens 6-3 6-3.