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For the Williams’ sisters, U.S. Open not a happy place

By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times –

NEW YORK — This should be a place of joy for the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, and yet two of the last three years of their home major, the U.S. Open, have brought heartbreak and tears and ugly outbursts and angry tantrums and most disappointing of all, no titles.

The younger sister, Serena, has shown us this summer what a dominating player she is, even at age 30, vanquishing third-ranked Maria Sharapova to win Olympic gold and second-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in the Wimbledon final.

That Wimbledon championship gave Serena 14 major-level championships, and No. 15 seems hers for the taking based on the level of her play and what other players, male and female, were saying Saturday as they began to gather at the United States Tennis Center to prepare for the season’s final major tournament of the year, which begins Monday.

It has been different for the more inward-looking and older sister, Venus, who recently turned 32, and who, a year ago here, revealed she suffered from an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome.

The virus often robs Venus of her strength and energy.

Fourth-seeded Serena’s unhappy history here during two of the last three years has been well-documented.

In 2009, a frustrated Serena exploded in anger when a lineswoman called her for a foot fault on the penultimate point against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals. Serena was so upset at the call that she seemed ready to use her racket in anger toward the smaller woman on the court and her outburst cost her a point and gave her a loss.

Last year about a week after a teary-eyed Venus pondered her future and abandoned the tournament, Serena, playing on the night of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, struggled through a first-set loss in her championship match with Samantha Stosur.

When Serena finally hit a thoroughly Williams shot, a massive forehand early in the second set that might have promoted a comeback, she let loose with a scream before the ball even hit the court. It was a shot Stosur never would have chased down, but the Australian and eventual champion was given the point because of a call of “hindrance.”

Again Serena had an Arthur Ashe Stadium Court tantrum and an ugly loss that left her reputation and her spirits in tatters.

Even Saturday, after her summer of triumph, Serena found herself on the defensive. After she had finished her thorough beating of Sharapova at the Olympics, she did a happy dance on Centre Court, at least it seemed that way to her. Others described it as a “Crip Walk,” a derogatory thing used by gang members.

“First of all,” Serena said, “it was just a dance. I didn’t know what it was called. Second, why are you asking me that? Like that’s so I mean, if anything you should be trying to ask me questions to lift me up, not bring up such things.”

However she celebrated that Olympic title, Novak Djokovic, the defending men’s U.S. Open champion, spoke almost reverentially of Serena on Saturday.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “Nobody knows when she’s going to stop and she keeps on going and keeps dominating and winning most of her matches. The big events, that’s what she aims for. I mean, she won the singles and doubles at Wimbledon and then again at the Olympic Games. That’s just fantastic.”

Venus, who is unseeded here for the first time since 1997, said her health issue is under control. “I feel like I can play,” said Venus, who made it to the semifinals of a key summer hard-court warmup event in Cincinnati.

Clijsters, 29 and the mother of daughter Jada, has already announced she is retiring for good after this season. Asked her favorite for the singles title this year, the Belgian said it’s easy.

“To me, Serena is the best ever just because I think physically she stands out,” Clijsters said. “When she’s in good shape she stands out tremendously. She’s fast, she’s strong, she has a very good eye as well. What we have seen over the last few months is the best player ever.”

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