x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Venus will rise to the occasion

Serena Williams concedes that sister Venus is the best grass-court player of the new millennium and will yet again take some stopping on the lawns of London SW19.

LONDON // Serena Williams has three more grand-slam titles than her big sister but the younger of the Californian siblings conceded on the eve of Wimbledon that Venus is the best grass-court player of the new millennium and will yet again take some stopping on the lawns of London SW19.

If anybody can hold high hopes of derailing such an outstanding champion, though, it is Serena who has won half of their previous 20 confrontations - two of them in the final here. Serena, not renowned for her loquaciousness when dealing with prying questions about family fortunes, delivered the most succinct of Venus appraisals before talking up her prospects of a third title. "She has an amazing serve, and I think that helps a lot," said Serena about the five-time champion. "She has an amazing return and she's really fast. She has long arms, so she just gets everything back.

"It's hard facing a player like that, especially on the grass when it's a faster surface and have much less time to react. She's also an extremely smart player." Venus warned those aspiring to depose her as queen of the All England club: "I know how to play this tournament. I know what to do to win and I've got the game to do it again. "I have more passion for Wimbledon than any other tournament and I hate losing here more than anywhere else. I loved watching it as a girl and getting hooked on Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf."

The sisters are pleased that they have been kept apart in the draw, enabling them to focus on the possibility of walking out together to contest a fourth final on American Independence Day. A search for potential spoilers of that July 4 celebration points to Russia where five of the world's top 10 and the 2004 champion Maria Sharapova were born. On paper the biggest threat should come from Dinara Safina, who has climbed resolutely to the top of the rankings on the strength of her displaying impressive form on a variety of surfaces.

Serious misgivings remain, however, about her capability of performing on the big occasion. She has lost in three grand slam finals, the most recent at Roland Garros two weeks ago, when a first major title was there for the taking, only for her to fall apart at the seams and present the honour to her compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova. The key issue now is whether that painful and embarrassing experience has damaged the fragile temperament of Safina, younger sister of the volatile Marat Safin, or whether it has made her better equipped to cope with the next attack of stage fright. Time will tell on that one.

Safina should have the chance to avenge that defeat next week because she has Kuznetsova with her in the top section of the draw. Kuznetsova, always a confident character, will be even more buoyant after her Paris triumph but the former US Open champion has an unimpressive Wimbledon record, failing to go beyond the quarter-final in six visits. It would be a surprise if she ended that sequence at Safina's expense.

Elena Dementieva, the fourth seed, managed to reach the semi-finals for the first time in 10 attempts last year and there is no reason why she cannot do the same again as she plans for another all-Russian quarter-final against Vera Zvonareva. That might be the end of the road for whoever prevails in that clash because Serena is likely to be waiting... one victory away from a possible Venus rematch.

Meanwhile, Laura Robson will be the first British player in action at Wimbledon today as she takes on Daniela Hantuchova. With Andy Murray not playing until tomorrow, the spotlight will be firmly on Robson, the reigning junior Wimbledon champion, on Court Two. The 15-year-old has been handed a wild card into the main draw and faces a tough task against Hantuchova, the world number 33 who reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2002.

@Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae For the latest scores, map of the stadium and list of past champions go to www.thenational.ae/wimbledon