They were born 15 months apart. They became No. 1 in the world five months apart. And Tuesday at Roland Garros, they were bounced from the quarterfinals of the French Open 28 minutes apart.
Venus and Serena Williams, who have made so much tennis history between them in the last decade, added a dubious distinction to their achievements in losing to lesser players who capitalized on their erratic play in the world's most prestigious clay-court tournament.
Serena, the French Open's 2002 champion and highest remaining seed, was beaten by fellow American and seventh seed Jennifer Capriati, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, in a center court match that was twice suspended by rain.
Venus saw her 19-match winning streak on clay snapped on nearby Suzanne Lenglen Court by Russia's Anastasia Myskina, who cruised to the 6-3, 6-4 upset.
It was the first time the sisters had lost in the same round of a tournament since Serena joined her elder sister in the professional ranks in September 1995. "I'm alive, I'm breathing, I'm healthy -- things could be worse," a subdued Serena said. "But obviously, I'm not happy."
The back-to-back defeats would have been unthinkable a year ago, when the sisters stood atop the tennis world with 10 Grand Slam titles between them.
From the fall of 2001 to July 2003, they faced each other in six of the eight majors contested. Venus topped her younger sister to claim the 2001 U.S. Open; Serena stormed back to claim the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in 2002, and the Australian and Wimbledon in 2003. None of their peers approached their power and command of the court, and it appeared they'd dominate the game for years.
Then came injuries and the lure of other interests. Venus took a hiatus from the rigors of the pro tour and turned her attention to her fledgling interior design business. Serena underwent knee surgery and pursued an acting career, stopping in Cannes for the famed film festival two weeks ago en route to Roland Garros.
The sisters' surprisingly early exit from the French Open is sure to raise questions about whether they're committed to reclaiming their spots atop the world rankings now that their fame and marketing clout extends well beyond the boundaries of a tennis court.
It also represents a major blow for the French Open's broadcasters and promoters. Venus and Serena are the game's most popular players, and their exit follows on the heels of last week's ouster of all 10 American men in the draw, including marquee attractions Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.
For Capriati, the victory over Serena represented a huge burden lifted off her shoulders. Serena had dominated their rivalry in recent years, winning eight consecutive matches until Capriati snapped the streak three weeks ago in Rome.
Repeating the feat at Roland Garros was affirmation for the hard work she'd invested in retooling her game with new coach Heinz Gunthardt. And when the match was finally over (the last point was replayed because of an overturned call), Capriati turned to her parents in the grandstands, her face awash in relief and satisfaction.
Capriati took charge early, breaking Serena's serve three times to close the first set in 34 minutes. Serena then seized the momentum, racing through the second set to force a third.
When play was halted for rain a second time, Capriati changed her shirt, re-taped her ankles and re-thought her strategy. Her tactic of hitting down the middle and serving into Serena's body seemed to be working; it was denying second-seeded Serena the angles she loved to attack. But the tactic of waiting for Serena to commit an error was tiresome, so Capriati decided to play the aggressor.
Serena responded with jittery nerves, double-faulting twice in a row in the second to last game. Afterward she faulted herself for not keeping the ball in play, not being assertive enough and not playing like a professional. "I was an amateur today," she said.
But she scoffed at a suggestion that she had grown more interested in acting than tennis.
"If I was, I'd be on the set of a movie right now," she replied. "But I'm at Roland Garros. I have all kinds of different opportunities to be doing different films and different stuff."
If Serena was slightly off her game Tuesday, Venus was off on another planet, playing far below her ability and showing little enthusiasm for the fight. The fourth seed moved awkwardly, lacked her customary air of confidence and hit carelessly, committing nearly as many unforced errors (43) as points won (51).
Poor preparation was to blame, she explained.
"Absolutely I don't think she beat me today," Venus said of Myskina, the sixth seed. "Normally against this kind of game I'm going to do well against her because she couldn't really hurt me. I suppose next time around I'm going to definitely be ready."
Both sisters are scheduled to play Wimbledon, which starts in less than three weeks. Despite their losses here, they don't intend to enter the traditional grass-court tune-ups that precede the tournament, opting instead to hit on the hard courts at their South Florida home.
"We're going to pack our bags and leave," Venus said. "There's nothing left for us here anymore. We're going home."