On Tuesday night, tennis superstar sisters and professional rivals Serena and Venus Williams will face off in the U.S. Open for a singles match in New York. The tennis world is abuzz with the potential for Serena to make history by winning all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year, a feat that has not been accomplished in 27 years; a woman has not accomplished this feat since 1953. Tuesday night's quarter final match between the Williams sisters marks the 27th time the two of them will have faced one another competitively. While the sisters are fiercely competitive on the court, not only with one another but with any of their opponents, they're also extremely loving and supportive of one another. Serena and Venus have both stated that facing off against one another is uncomfortable, but in what amounts to a stunning display of sisterhood and feminism, they only ever speak well of one another and can always be found cheering one another on.
Anyone with a sibling can probably empathize with the idea of sibling rivalry when it comes to academics, sports, or even who gets in the least trouble at home. But it's a special case for the Williams sisters, who have been facing off against one another in highly competitive athletic settings for many years.
The sisters have commented that it has never easy to play each other, because, of course, as an individual athlete, they want to win — but it hurts to eliminate someone they love so much. According to The New York Times, Serena said, "It definitely doesn’t get easier" regarding how it feels to play Venus in tournaments. When Venus eliminated Serena during Serena's Grand Slam debut during the Australian Open in 1998, Venus stated that "It wasn’t so fun to eliminate my little sister in the second round." Both sisters will play to win, but at the end of the day, they don't like to win at their sister's expense.
When the Williams sisters play one another, they not only display incredibly athletic prowess, but demonstrate that, through sisterhood, it's possible for women to love, support, and celebrate one another, even under competitive circumstances. Serena and Venus famously do not revel in their defeats over one another, and while whomever wins is proud and feels happy to advance in a tournament or win a title, the victory is bittersweet because it means the other sister has lost. While the winner of the two will humbly accept the victory, the losing sister is always quick to offer praise and congratulations, despite what might be one of the more difficult losses either of the sisters can face.
The bond that the Williams share demonstrates how women, in sisterhood, can defy the stereotypes of being in competition with one another. Thinking about how women are often portrayed as pitted against one another as romantic competition for men, or needing to climb over one another to gain success at work, the Williams sisters are a refreshing breath of fresh air that reminds us that women can be powerful, successful, and competitive, without feeling a desire to harm one another or act maliciously against one another.
The reality of our world is that, as women, we will be in competition with one another at different times, and often we will be made to feel like we need to "win" out over one another. Only one person can get that promotion, and only one of the Williams sisters can win Tuesday night's match. But in order to win, and in order to still experience and be happy for our own successes, we don't have to see each other as enemies.
The way the Williams sisters do not compromise their talent when they play one another, and approach the matches with the same tenacity they would with anyone else, yet still remain respectful and supportive. Although it would have been easy for the rivalry between Serena and Venus to become bitter and unfriendly, they've managed to always perform at the highest level against one another, without succumbing to the potentially harmful aspects of competition.