The way Serena Williams remembers it, the first time she took the court against Venus, she was eight years old, 15 months her sister’s junior.
Things didn’t go particularly well.
“She beat me, beat me good,” recalled Serena. But she was really nice. She gave me the trophy because I was so upset. I have always been a sore loser, but she’s been really amazing. I can really learn from her.”
They’ve come a long way since those early days on the cracked courts of Compton, California. Today, there are 30 Grand Slam singles titles between them, their legacy an everlasting imprint upon the sport. It’s been two decades since they first faced each other on the professional level, a second-round match at the 1998 Australian Open going to the elder sibling 7-6(4), 6-1. They’ve played 27 times since, the career head-to-head now standing in Serena’s favor at 17-11. They’ll play for a 29th time here in the third round, a packed stadium of tennis fans and even a few of the all-time greats, appreciating the importance of it all.
“Longevity and dominance. They showed that. They had a massive arrival on the scene, a lot of buzz around them, and they lived up to the hype. Came out and crushed it,” said Roger Federer. “From the very beginning, they were very interesting to follow…It’s an incredibly fascinating story. Now they’re facing off here tonight. I think it’s great for the sport. This is like the extra lap they’re doing and the fans can enjoy it.”
BNPParibasOpen.com looks back on 20 years of matches between the Williamses.
1998 Australian Open/R64/Venus Williams/7-6(4), 6-1
A sibling rivalry unlike any the sport has ever seen is born in Melbourne, with a 17-year-old claiming the somewhat awkward all-in-the-family matchup between loving sisters.
1998 Rome/QF/Venus Williams/6-4, 6-2
Playing the first clay-court tournament of her career, Serena struggles to find her footing in a straight-sets loss to V.
1999 Miami/F/Venus Williams/6-1, 4-6, 6-4
Venus remains undefeated in her head to heads against little sis, claiming their first-ever meeting in a final in three hard-fought sets.
1999 Grand Slam Cup/F/Serena Williams/6-1, 3-6, 6-3
On the heels of becoming the first Williams to claim a Grand Slam trophy (US Open), Serena gets her first win over Venus, the event’s defending champion.
2000 Wimbledon/SF/Venus Williams/6-2, 7-6
En route to her first Grand Slam title, Venus upsets her favored sister. They would later team up for the doubles title and, later that summer, Olympic gold.
2001 US Open/F/Venus Williams/6-2, 6-4
The highly-anticipated US Open final — the first major final contested between sisters in the Open Era and the first primetime women’s final — is a somewhat anticlimactic one, as Venus cruises to an easy win.
2002 Miami/SF/Serena Williams/6-2, 6-2
Venus came into the semis riding a 22-match win streak, but it was Serena who would walk off with the trophy, her first win over the elder Williams since 1999.
2002 French Open/F/Serena Williams/7-5, 6-3
Clinching the Nos. 1-2 spots in the rankings, respectively, Venus and Serena face off in the Roland Garros final, with Serena claiming her first Slam crown in three years.
2002 Wimbledon/F/Serena Williams/7-6(4), 6-3
In the second of three major finals contested between the Williamses in ’02, Serena raises her first ironically-titled Venus Rosewater Dish and leapfrogs her sister to claim the world No. 1.
2002 US Open/F/Serena Williams/6-4, 6-3
If their first US Open final came off as somewhat of a dud, this one saw a dazzling display of tennis, the Puma catsuit-sporting Serena pulling even in the family head-to-head at 5-all.
2003 Australian Open/F/Serena Williams/7-6(4), 3-6, 6-4
L’il sis puts the finishing touches on the so-called “Serena Slam,” becoming the first player since Steffi Graf in 1995 to hold all four major titles at the same time.
2003 Wimbledon/F/Serena Williams/4-6, 6-4, 6-2
With her sister nursing an abdominal injury, Serena pulls it out in three in this rematch of the ’02 SW19 final.
2005 Miami/QF/Venus Williams/6-1, 7-6(8)
In their first meeting outside of a final in three years, Venus gets back on the winning side. “We’ve played some huge matches,” says Venus. “This one definitely is a highlight.”
2005 US Open/R16/Venus Williams/7-6(5), 6-2
Their earliest encounter at a major since ’98 sees Venus pull out a tight first-set tiebreak before cruising through the second.
2008 Bangalore/SF/Serena Williams/6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4)
Facing each other for the first time in nearly three years, Serena squeaks by in a third-set breaker.
2008 Wimbledon/F/Venus Williams/7-5, 6-4
Venus claims her fifth title on the grass courts of the All England Club. It remains her last Grand Slam title.
2008 US Open/QF/Serena Williams/7-6(6), 7-6(7)
It will be remembered as the most competitive matchup between the sisters in Flushing Meadows, one that sees Serena pull through in a pair of tense tiebreaks.
2008 WTA Championships/RR/Venus Williams/5-7, 6-1, 6-0
Serena caps her round-robin victory at the year-end championships with a bagel, the first shutout set in their historic head-to-head series.
2009 Dubai/SF/Venus Williams/6-1, 2-6, 7-6(3)
Venus kicks off the year by claiming a thrilling three-setter in Dubai, the third straight time they’ve gone the distance. The quality of the sister-sister rivalry has perhaps never been higher.
2009 Miami/SF/Serena Williams/6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Advancing to her seventh Miami final, Serena takes yet another three-set matchup between the Williams sisters, although ankle and quad injuries would cost her in a one-sided final against Victoria Azarenka.
2009 Wimbledon/F/Serena Williams/7-6(3), 6-2
Winning her first Wimbledon title in six years, Serena claims the all-American, all-Williams final on the Fourth of July, the 11th Grand Slam title of her career.
2009 WTA Championships/RR/Serena Williams/5-7, 6-4, 7-6(4)
The first of two meetings at the ’09 WTA year-ender comes in the round-robin phase, with Serena saving a match point to emerging victorious.
2009 WTA Championships/F/Serena Williams/6-2, 7-6(4)
Her fourth straight win over Venus gives Serena the Sony Ericsson Championships title. She now leads the head-to-head 13-0.
2013 Charleston/SF/Serena Williams/6-1, 6-2
“It’s great to see her at No. 1 and just fulfilling every dream,” says Venus of her sister, who claims their first on-court encounter in four years.
2014 Canadian Masters/SF/Venus Williams/6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3
Venus, 34, scores her first win over her 32-year-old sister in more than five years, returning to the Top 20 after three seasons of injury and illness.
2015 Wimbledon/R16/Serena Williams/6-4, 6-3
“It’s never easy to play someone you love and care about,” said world No. 1 Serena after a straight-sets decision over Venus. “You just play for the competition and enjoy the moment.”
2015 US Open/QF/Serena Williams/6-2, 1-6, 6-3
There was plenty on the line when they faced off in Flushing, with Serena streaking toward the calendar-year Grand Slam. She would indeed prevail in three sets, only to fall to unheralded and unseeded Robert Vinci in the next round.
2017 Australian Open/F/Serena Williams/6-4, 6-4
It somehow seems fitting that Serena should surpass Steffi Graf as the Open Era Slam Queen against her sister, now holding 23 major titles.
2018 Indian Wells/R32/?
Said Serena prior to their third-round encounter in the desert, “I really abhor every time we play, but I do enjoy the battle when I’m out there. It’s just afterwards I don’t like it as much.”