This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 6.
Throughout a large percentage of the Open era, the women’s final was contested in a timeframe that was not always to their advantage. Once Super Saturday was established, the standard Saturday program was all wrapped neatly into one session. The first men’s semifinal would open the proceedings, followed by the women’s final in the middle of the afternoon, concluding with the second men’s semifinal.
There were years when that schedule worked well for the women, but in other instances, the fans could be emotionally drained from a long men’s semifinal and therefore they lacked their usual degree of passion during the early stages of the women’s title-round contest.
But it all changed in 2001, when Venus and Serena Williams collided in the final. For the first time, the women were showcased on Saturday evening in prime time. This made sense in every respect. When Martina Navratilova met Chrissie Evert in the 1984 final, they waited for what must have seemed an eternity for Ivan Lendl and Pat Cash to finish their riveting five-set semifinal. The two women’s finalists shared a bagel in the locker room.
No longer was the guesswork or the food-sharing necessary. It was entirely appropriate that the Williams sisters were the two competitors in the first primetime final because they did so much respectively to raise the profile of the game. Meanwhile, Serena had been the US Open victor in 1999, and Venus had taken the title in 2000. They were starting to dominate the game. They thoroughly deserved to be facing each other on this historic occasion.
As fate would decree, Venus toppled Serena with ease to defend her title. Time and again, she beat her sister to the punch, outplaying Serena in fast-paced exchanges from the backcourt, serving with more authority, covering the court with almost unimaginable alacrity. From 1-2 down in the first set, Venus collected seven games in a row. She made 17 fewer unforced errors than Serena. Venus came through, 6-2, 6-4, with calm assurance. It was the first time two African-American players had ever met in a major final.
A new standard had been set for the women’s final. No one would upstage them on such a big occasion. Venus Williams was proud that she and her sister had appeared on such an auspicious occasion. She said, “This was our first Grand Slam final together, and really that’s the way we would like it to be because both of us win in a way.”
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