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Australian Open final preview: Serena vs. Venus

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: Serena Williams of the United States serves in her semifinal match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia on day 11 of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
January 27, 2017 09:00 AM

By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com

They say that records are meant to be broken.

So it’s fitting that the siblings who have done nothing but rewrite the history books since bursting onto the tennis stage two decades ago will script another chapter this weekend in Melbourne.

Serena and Venus, each former No. 1 players in the world with a combined 563 Grand Slam match wins and 29 major titles, will square off in the final of the 2017 Australian Open.

The sisters insist they’re playing with house money and each say they have nothing to lose. Except both sisters hate losing more than they like winning, and the fact that it’s a relative on the other baseline probably won’t do anything to quell the inevitable nerves.

Venus’ path to the final saw her drop just one set in six matches. The No. 13 seed faced only one seed – No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – on her way through the draw. Her potential third- and fourth-round opponents – No. 19 seed Kiki Bertens and fourth-seeded Simona Halep – each lost in the first round to other Americans, and Pavlyuchenkova upset No. 8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the round of 16.

The top seed in the draw was defending champion Angelique Kerber, but that semifinal showdown was scrapped at the hands of CoCo Vandeweghe, another American who posted a career-best run to the final four.

By contrast, 35-year-old Serena’s road was considerably more difficult, starting with former world No. 7 Belinda Bencic in the first round, French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova in the second, rising American Nicole Gibbs in the third and No. 16 seed and two-time slam semifinalist Barbora Strycova in the fourth. Serena beat ninth-seeded Johanna Konta in the quarters and surprise star Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the semis.

As the underdog, Venus will surely have her work cut out on Saturday. Her serve and ground strokes don’t have the same explosive power and penetration as those of her younger sister, and the fact that Serena has won seven of their past eight meetings indicates an uphill climb for the 36-year-old, who has caught a proverbial second wind in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career.

If you’re looking for positive omens for Venus, each of her past three wins over Serena (pictured above) have been on hard courts – at the Canadian Open, in Dubai and at the year-end tour championships – and each featured strong serving performances on the second serve.

Venus has protected her serve well this tournament, but she’s arguably returned even better. Both aspects of her game will be key if she hopes to hang with Serena, who can blast anyone off the court even with a subpar performance.

So now they’re the last two standing, just what’s at stake?

For Serena, the biggest thing on the line is the pursuit of her 23rd Grand Slam title. She’s steadfastly refused to discuss the possibility of breaking the Open era record she shares with Steffi Graf, but you know that, internally if not publicly, it will be on her mind.

Questions constantly arise about the greatest of all time, so by moving to the top of the Open era list, that’s just one more thing that will help separate Serena from the pack.

Of course, that’s not all that’s in play this weekend. A win would give Serena a seventh Australian Open title, which would be three more than any other player in the Open era and move her into second all-time behind only Margaret Court, whose 11 crowns Down Under will likely never be broken.

Serena would also become just the second woman ever to win two different Grand Slam singles titles seven times each – she also has seven at Wimbledon – and she’d also be the first player to claim at least one major under four different U.S. Presidents.

She would become the oldest player to sit atop the rankings, and, at 17 years, four months and 17 days, increase her own record for the longest span between first and last Grand Slam titles. Whichever sister wins, they automatically become the oldest player to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era.

For Venus, a win in Melbourne Park would give her an eighth Grand Slam title and her first in Melbourne. Those eight titles would equal Billie Jean King’s mark and tie her for seventh in the Open era, one behind Monica Seles.

Also, with five titles at Wimbledon and back-to-back US Open championships, she would become the 15th woman in the Open era to win three of the four majors at least once. The last person to accomplish the feat was Maria Sharapova nine years ago. In what could be the last major final these pioneering sisters contest, don't count anything out.