And the players are out on court. First come the Czech team of Linda Nosková and Lucie Hradecká to … maybe four cheers. I imagine the next pair are going to get a slightly louder reception. But first we get a video presentation in which we are told the Williamses are pretty good at tennis, all things considered. This is good information to know going forward.
And then they’re out: Venus in white and green, and Serena in black. And, yep, there are plenty of cheers. Although I wouldn’t say it’s deafening, perhaps reflecting that this is doubles and the stands still aren’t packed as the evening session crowd slowly files in.
The Williamses opponents this evening are a blend of youth and experience. Linda Nosková is just 17 and this is her first-ever appearance at a grand slam doubles event. She’s currently ranked outside the Top 200 in doubles, although that may be down to her inexperience rather than any lack of ability. Her partner is a veteran of the circuit though. At 37, Lucie Hradecká has been a pro for 18 years, and has two grand slam doubles titles, including the US Open in 2013. She may be past her peak, but she’s still a Top 20 player in doubles, so this match will be no walkover for the Williamses.
We’ve talked plenty about Serena’s likely retirement after the US Open, but is this the last time we see Venus? She is, after all, the older sister and has barely played in the last year because of injury. When she lost to Alison van Uytvanck in the first-round of the singles here in New York she was asked about her future and merely said: “Right now I’m just focused on the doubles.”
Amid Serena’s brilliance it’s easy to forget just how good Venus has been down the years. This was her 91st appearance in a major singles event, a record in the Open era. She also won Wimbledon five times, trailing only Martina Navratilova (nine), Serena (seven) and Steffi Graf (seven). Oh, and her record in Flushing Meadows isn’t bad either: she won the singles title twice in the early 2000s and the doubles twice.
Venus and Serena Williams are now 40 and 42 respectively, so they’re not quite at the peak of their careers anymore – although one of them just beat the world No 2 – but in their day they were arguably the most formidable doubles team in history. How good? Their all-time record in grand slams as a team is 125-14. At the Olympics it’s 15-1, and in tournament finals it’s a ridiculous 22-1.
Altogether they have won 14 grand slam titles as doubles partners (to go with their mere 30 singles titles). It’s actually been a while since they played together in a grand slam – they reached the third round of the French Open in 2018. Their last grand slam doubles title came in 2016 at Wimbledon.
So, what are their chances this time? If Serena’s remarkable run in the singles continues it wouldn’t be a surprise if she pulls out of the doubles to conserve energy. But make no mistake, even in their 40s, the sisters are capable of making a deep run.