Serena, Venus Williams set up U.S. Open sisters showdown

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NEW YORK — Serena and Venus Williams will play in the U.S. Open third round, their earliest Grand Slam meeting since their first at the 1998 Australian Open.

“I wouldn’t say it’s exciting,” Serena said. “We would rather have met later [in the tournament]. … Normally I would say cheer for me, but whoever you’re feeling like, me or Venus, either one will work.”

Serena ensured the sisters’ 30th career match Friday by beating German Carina Witthöft 6-2, 6-2 on Wednesday night. Six hours earlier, Venus swept Italian Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-5 on another sweltering day in Queens.

“I never root against her, no matter what,” Serena said. “When you always want someone to win, to have to beat them. I know the same thing is for her. When she beats me, she always roots for me as well.”

Serena leads the head-to-head 17-12, winning eight of the last 10. Venus took the most recent, 6-3, 6-4 at Indian Wells in March, Serena’s first WTA event since having daughter Olympia on Sept. 1.

They also played in Serena’s last match before her maternity leave. Serena won the 2017 Australian Open final 6-4, 6-4 while eight weeks pregnant.

“It was two against one,” Venus joked Wednesday. “At least this time it’ll be fair.”

The two women with 30 combined Grand Slam singles titles are playing so early here because of Serena’s maternity leave. Her ranking was not protected for the absence, which meant Serena was No. 26 going into the U.S. Open even with making the Wimbledon final last month.

Venus is ranked 16th, and Serena received a seeding bump from tournament organizers to No. 17. They were randomly drawn into the same section of the top half of the draw and now meet in the round of 32.

“It’s really interesting to play someone that knows [you],” Serena said. “You have to almost become a different player, which is another challenge, as well. I think that’s also something that helps her.”

U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Venus faced a tougher road to their 16th matchup at a Slam and sixth at the U.S. Open.

She needed three sets to outlast 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. Giorgi, at No. 40, is the highest-ranked player either Williams has faced so far.

Venus, 38, is also playing to make the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time this year after doing so at all four majors in a resurgent 2017. She finished the year ranked No. 5 but has since dropped to No. 16.

The Williams-Williams winner would have been due to play No. 1 SImona Halep in the fourth round, but Halep became the first women’s top seed to lose in the U.S. Open first round in the 51-year Open Era.

Instead, Serena or Venus will play either Estonian Kaia Kanepi or Swede Rebecca Peterson in the round of 16.

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