George Vecsey

Almost on a daily basis, the Williams sisters continue to amaze. Now they must play each other again tomorrow in the Wimbledon finals, a disturbing prospect for the casual fan because these two sisters love each other so much.

On Thursday, Serena disposed of the woman who beat her, to the delight of the mob, at the semifinals in Paris. Then Serena sat in the damp stands and watched her older sister fight off not only a talented opponent but stabbing abdominal pain and resultant nerves.

Winning graciously was one of Serena's finest moments. Winning in pain was perhaps the greatest moment in Venus's career. But one must always say "up to now," because there seems no limit to the melodramas. The only thing that seems impossible is controversy between them.

Rivalries are good for sport. The history between Serena and Justine Henin-Hardenne would be good stuff in boxing or football or hockey, with suitable trash talk and finger-waving.

However, in the don't-make-waves world of women's tennis, the rematch between these two players became a contest between two very different players who did not want to discuss history or personalities.

During the modest little two-hour and 38-minute delay Thursday, the BBC showed a tape of the nasty French Open semifinal between Serena and Henin-Hardenne. By the marvel of electronic replays, there it was again: Williams' suggesting that her opponent had signaled for a time out, Henin-Hardenne's narrow gunslinger eyes staring off into space, volunteering nothing.

Then came the cheers for a Williams error, the rude whistles and the vicious hoots when Tout Paris rooted for the Belgian over the American, and the Belgian prevailed.

Then the two players shifted from the video of the red clay at Roland Garros in Paris to the slick lawn of Wimbledon. The history gave an edge to an appealing performance from both: Henin-Hardenne with her classic one-handed backhand, her feathery glides toward the net, Williams with her powerful two-handed backhands into distant corners, her occasional Jimmy Connors pumped fist, her shrieks on crucial points.

Serena Williams polished off Henin-Hardenne, 6-3, 6-2, and then they met at the net and exchanged collegial gestures and smiles.

Soon they made consecutive appearances in the interview room, counterpunching all reminders of the last time they met.

Somebody brought up published quotes from Henin-Hardenne's coach, Carlos Rodriquez, that his player thought Williams was haughty and would have acknowledged her raised hand to the umpire for any other player but Williams.

"Everybody has their own opinion," Williams said with a smile. "I don't think she thinks that about me. If she does, she's entitled. I think she's a good player; I think she's a nice girl. I have no hard feelings with anyone."

Williams wants to be an actress. Earlier this week she expressed sorrow at the death of Katherine Hepburn but admitted her favorite actress was Marilyn Monroe, an interesting choice.

On Thursday, Williams played the role of the gracious winner. When the Paris match was brought up again, Williams said, "I think it's more the press wants to start a rivalry between people."

"I mean, it used to be us and Hingis, the Williams sisters and Hingis," she continued. "I think you guys just make a mountain out of a molehill. In this case, there's not even a molehill here."

She was using Michael Jordan's "you guys" for the press, but Serena did not have the sneer of Jordan. Instead, she played her part: the hugely talented, highly motivated young star, who has it all, including discretion.

Henin-Hardenne was as light on her feet in her interview as she is on the court. She praised William's play, saying that Williams "was just too good today," and she denied that her coach had made any comments about Serena Williams.

Asked why women's tennis did not have rivalries, Henin-Hardenne said, "I understand sometimes it's your job and I totally agree with that. But I'm not a person who likes to live with that kind of thing because I think it's really stupid."

"There are many things that are more important in life than one point in a match, and I know that because I live very hard things in my life," said Henin-Hardenne who lost her mother at the age of 13. She kept her dignity, as she keeps her balance on the court.

Later, the crowd witnessed another display of balance. Venus Williams, nearly falling over from pain early and late, managed to come back against Kim Clijsters, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, to move into the finals against her sister, who had counseled her during a rain delay.

"Serena came over and talked to me," Venus said. "My mom said, 'Pray, and you either play or you don't.'"

She did play, and added another moment to the Williams epic that grows better day by day.