There may be a Serena-Venus XXXI, XXXII, a XXXV even. But math speaks the truth: With Venus, 38, and Serena, a month shy of 37, we're nearing the end of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports.
Years from now, though, when we cling to highlight clips and written prose to tell the story of how two sisters went from playing in glass-littered courts in Compton to the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, we'll also be able to share their legacy by pointing to draw sheets, ranking lists and players competing inside the biggest arena in tennis.
As great as the careers of Serena and Venus have been – 30 Grand Slam titles between them (Serena, 23; Venus, seven) – the Williams sisters have been just as prolific at inspiring and bringing on the next generation.
Last year's US Open women's final reminded us well of that, when Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens faced off in the first all-American women's singles final in New York in 15 years. But the Williams' legacy extends far beyond the top of the game. Twenty-seven American women, including six teenagers, are inside the Top 200 of the WTA Rankings, and at last year's US Open, Cori Gauff, then 13, and Amanda Anisimova, 16, competed in the third consecutive all-American Grand Slam girls' singles final.
“Venus and Serena have been incredible advocates for our sport, and yes, they inspire so many,” said Kathy Rinaldi, USTA National Coach for women's tennis and U.S. Fed Cup captain. “I think a lot of credit goes to them and to the next generation coming up.”
Rinaldi saw first-hand the excitement the sisters produce in the next generation. Serena made her long-awaited return to tennis last February, when she partnered with Venus in a Fed Cup doubles match in Asheville, North Carolina. Teenagers Gauff and Whitney Osuigwe were the practice partners for the tie.
“They were crying just to have that opportunity, just to meet them,” Rinaldi said.
For Osuigwe, it was the first time she had met the sisters. She sat next to Serena as they watched Venus' singles match.
“She was just talking to me about my tennis and what my ranking was, and she was just commenting on her sister to just try and motivate her,” said Osuigwe, who last year became the first American to win the Roland-Garros girls' singles title in 28 years.
Osuigwe finished as the junior world No. 1 last year and turned professional. The Williams sisters have set clear career benchmarks for the 16-year-old to pursue.
“I look up to both of them so much,” Osuigwe said. “Just seeing what they've done for women's tennis and what they've accomplished has obviously been an inspiration for me to try to be like them.”
Taylor Townsend, like countless American girls, spent her childhood watching the Williams sisters on TV. Then, earlier this year at the Australian Open, both sisters gave her tickets to watch them play in Melbourne.
“It’s really awesome for them to still be competing and competing at such a high level, and having the chance and opportunity to still play each other after so many years, I think that it's amazing,” Townsend said.
The 22-year-old, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 61 last month, can appreciate what it’s like to play a sister, although on a far different scale.
“Competing against your sibling is never fun but you also know how to make certain things work. It's like a little puzzle that you have to figure out,” Townsend said.
Stephens and Keys have already ensured there will be a clean U.S. handoff at the top of the women's game. (“Those matches are always legendary,” Keys said about the rivalry.)
But Gauff, Osuigwe and Townsend are among the next generation of female players who have also been motivated by the Williams sisters. And years from now, when the Williams sisters sit in the stands instead of battling on court, they will know their legacy is secure when they see them play on the world's biggest stages.