Lloyd Burnard

Take a moment to honour the greats

2017-01-30 08:35
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - There is a famous segment that Trans World Sport shot in Florida all the way back in 1992.

The weekly sports television show had gotten wind of a couple of talented young kids - sisters - who were making waves in American junior tennis circles.

They popped on down to the Rick Macci Tennis Academy where two giggly girls with beaded hair and infectious smiles awaited.

12-year-old Venus Ebony Starr Williams towered over 11-year-old Serena Jameka Williams.

The interview was precisely what one would expect.

There was footage of the sisters hitting balls at practice and riding their bicycles while father, Richard, spoke about their upbringing and how family values and education would be prioritised over tennis while his girls were still developing.

But there was this one moment in that segment that would prove to be haunting in the years to come.

"If you were a tennis player, who would you want to be like?" the interviewer asked Serena, who had just revealed that she would like to be a veterinarian if she couldn’t play tennis.

Immediately, something changed in the 11-year-old’s face, and a look that we now know all too well came over her.

"Well, I would like other people to (want to) be like me," she replied in all seriousness, following up with a confident smile.

She was, obviously, just a kid. But now, 24 years later, Serena Williams is recognised by most as the greatest to ever play the game and her wish all those years ago has surely come true... there isn’t a player in the world who wouldn't want the career she has had.

On Sunday, Venus and Serena - now 36 and 35, respectively - met in the final of the Australian Open. In 2017. 

The first time the sisters met in a Grand Slam final was in 2001 when Venus beat Serena at the US Open, and to think that there would be another edition of that sibling rivalry 16 years later is simply unfathomable. 

What these two sisters have given to the game, and to sport, is unrivaled. 

Serena, who won on Sunday, now has 23 Grand Slam singles titles. Venus only has 7. Only 7. 

While Serena has soldiered on throughout her career, knocking over everything and anyone in her path, it hasn't been that easy for Venus.

In 2011, after a few years of niggling injuries, Venus was diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome and it appeared that she had reached the end of the road. 

There could be no shame in stopping at 30 with 7 Grand Slam titles to her name. 

But that is not the Williams way. 

Instead, Venus adapted. She adopted veganism as part of a major diet change and planned her comeback, and she has been a relatively regular fixture in the top 20 ever since.

This year, she stunned the tennis world and rolled the clock back to storm into her first Grand Slam final since Wimbledon 2009.

There they were: two sisters locked in battle on the biggest stage, potentially for the last time. 

The enormity of the occasion didn't take long to sink in and even the images of two goddesses of the game hitting at each other in the warm-ups was hypnotising. 

It must have been the gazillionth time they had rallied. This had, after all, started on the courts of Compton, California about 30 years ago.

Serena was too strong for Venus, as was expected, but that was never the appeal. 

This was all about two individuals, who have combined to dominate and revolutionise a sport, sharing the stage one more time.

Tennis, and women's tennis in particular, never knew what it was in for before the arrival of the Williams sisters. 

They would change the way that the women's game was viewed forever. 

Fights for equal pay, sponsorship deals, challenging the idea that tennis was an elitist sport, challenging the idea that tennis was a white sport... the Williams sisters have been major players in altering all of those ideologies in tennis. 

And they were only able to do that because they were so flipping good. 

Between 2000 and 2010, the Williams sisters combined to win 9 out of 11 Wimbledon crowns. 

Venus may never reach those heights again, and that is precisely why Saturday was so special. It may be the last time we see them playing for all the marbles. 

This, of course, all happened 24 hours before a men's final that had also gone through a time machine. 

Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal for the ninth time in a Grand Slam final... the first since 2011. 

They have a combined 32 Slams between them now. 

As Federer said after their epic five-setter on Sunday, if ever there was a time for a draw in tennis, this was it. 

It is a rivalry that has no rivals. As good as Murray and Djokovic are, they will never be able to replicate Federer v Nadal. 

Federer has been banging away since his last Slam win in 2012, but Nadal looked as good as gone with his injury struggles. 

But here they were, one more time, putting on a spectacle that is already being considered one of the greatest Grand Slam finals of all time. 

Federer hinted after the match that this could be his last Australian Open, while Nadal will be hoping for a few more cracks. 

Either way, this was as good as it gets. 

In some way, it would almost be better if these two never meet in a Grand Slam final again ... it would never be able to top the blockbuster that transpired on Sunday.

If this is the end, then the curtain has come down in the best way possible. 

In sport, you have players that come around once in a generation: special players who do special things. 

This weekend at the Australian Open, we saw four such individuals. It was something to savour. 

It is only January, but Melbourne this past weekend is already a contender for the moment... or moments... of the 2017 sporting year. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

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