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Sisterly rivalry renewed: Williams sisters set for third-round U.S. Open meeting

Venus Williams turned back Camila Giorgi of Italy to earn a third-round meeting with sister Serena on Friday at the U.S. Open. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Venus Williams set the record straight after her second-round win Wednesday at the U.S. Open: The last time she played her younger sister in a Grand Slam, Serena had an unfair advantage.

“Well, when we played at the Australian Open, it was two against one,” Venus Williams joked to ESPN’s Pam Shriver.

The 38-year-old is referring to that 2017 Grand Slam final in Melbourne that Serena won in straight sets while pregnant with daughter Olympia, a fact that only Venus and a select few others knew at the time.

On Friday at the U.S. Open, the sisters are in for an even fight.

Venus defeated Camila Giorgi, 6-4, 7-5, and Serena beat Carina Witthoeft, 6-2, 6-2, to set up the most anticipated match of the week at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It will be the 30th official meeting between the sisters in a rivalry that has spanned two decades.

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“I think that part is really remarkable,” Serena said. “I never would have thought that we would still be playing professionally.”

The first Williams-vs.-Williams match came at the 1998 Australian Open, a bout that big sister won in straight sets. Their most recent meeting came in the third round at Indian Wells this year, a match Venus also won as Serena was inching her way back on the WTA Tour after taking time off following childbirth.

Serena, the younger sister by 15 months, leads the series 17-12, with a 10-5 record in Grand Slam meetings.

Judging by the way she cruised to victory against Witthoeft, she enters the third round as the likely favorite.

Serena has dropped only eight games across two straight-sets matches; Venus has had to toil for her victories this tournament. Venus won back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 2000 and 2001 and is appearing in her 20th U.S. Open and 80th Grand Slam, the most of any active player.

Venus started her week with a three-set thriller against another former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, after which she looked exhausted. On Wednesday against Giorgi, Venus saw her serve broken three times.

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Venus’s appearance in the third round matches her best result at a major this year. She exited the first two Grand Slams in the first round and made it to the third round on grass at Wimbledon, historically her best tournament.

Still, tennis fans know better than to count out Venus when she plays her sister. She knows Serena’s game better than any player on tour, and she presents the most difficult mental — and emotional — challenge for the six-time U.S. Open champion.

“It’s really interesting to play someone that knows. You have to almost become a different player, which is another challenge. I think that’s also something that helps her,” Serena said. “. . . The best part is we bring out the best in each other. I know when I play her, I have to play some of my best tennis. She does, too.”

Stephens survives

Defending champion Sloane Stephens also made it through a challenging three-set match, defeating Anhelina Kalinina, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. The No. 3 seed advanced to face a two-time U.S. Open finalist in Victoria Azarenka in the third round.

Stephens kicked off a busy day for Americans at the National Tennis Center. In addition to the Williams sisters, John Isner won his second-round match against Nicolas Jarry, 6-7 (9-7), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4. Taylor Fritz moved on via walkover after his opponent, Jason Kubler, retired, and Jack Sock lost his second-round match to Georgian Nikoloz ­Basilashvili, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3).

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