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The outcome confirms what many have suspected for a decade now. When the Williams sisters are healthy and committed, they are the best in the business: They are the executives, and their colleagues are, at best, middle managers and, at worst, trainees. Two months ago, on the lawns of Wimbledon, Venus Williams carved through the draw without dropping a set, beating Serena Williams in the final. On the asphalt of Flushing Meadows, it was Little Sis who turned in the command performance, winning all 14 sets she played to take the title, the ninth singles major of her career.
This time the inevitable Williams-Williams showdown came unfortunately early. In a quarterfinal match that was astonishingly high in quality and astonishingly low in tension—who, after all, roots forcefully for one sister to beat the other?—Serena prevailed, 7--6, 7--6, coming from behind in both sets. Afterward she confided to her entourage that, having been forced to beat her sister, there was no way she would let anyone else take the trophy. And she didn't, smoking Russia's Dinara Safina in the semis and then outlasting Jelena Jankovic, the irrepressible Serb, in Sunday night's final, 6--4, 7--5. Said Williams, "I felt that coming into this tournament, I was going to win."
Unanswerable power is Williams's stock in trade, and in New York she led all players in winners and aces. Too often, however, her exceptional offense obscures her exceptional defense. Racing from corner to corner, her shoes squeaking like subway brakes, she won innumerable points simply by virtue of her hustle and anticipation.
While Williams's passion for tennis has wavered over the years—which might, paradoxically, explain why she is still going strong a few weeks shy of her 27th birthday—it's currently at a high tide. Her friend the rapper Common is among the legion of supporters who've encouraged her to take advantage of her prime years, and the message has gotten through. She's played a full schedule of events this year and didn't complain about having to come to New York directly from the Beijing Olympics, where she and Venus won their second gold medal in doubles. After she beat Venus, it was 'round midnight when Serena finally returned to her midtown hotel. By 10 o'clock the next morning she was back on the practice court—a veritable tennisy Williams. "I feel so young and energized, like I have a new career," Serena says. "If I don't practice, then it's like my mind goes nuts. I'm just paying the price, so to speak."
FEDERER, TOO, has paid the price. For all his talent, he works as hard as anyone else on the men's tour, whether by practicing in Dubai to simulate the hottest conditions imaginable or by maintaining a strict diet. It's no coincidence that he has gone through his entire career without a serious injury. It's no coincidence that, at 27, he can still play seven rounds of a tournament and have plenty of energy left.
At 7:04 on Monday night, Federer was still going strong. He finished off a comprehensive destruction of Murray with an unreturnable overhead and fell onto the court, experiencing the unalloyed joy that had eluded him for the last nine months.
His march toward history was back on track. New York's latest folk hero basked in still another standing ovation, as more than 20,000 fans cheered and sang along to the Orleans lyrics that blasted over the P.A. system: "We're still having fun, and you're still the one."