WIMBLEDON, England - Venus Williams says she's doing a lot of praying that her abdominal injury won't keep her from playing today's Wimbledon final against her sister, but she's not avoiding more mortal help, either.
Her personal trainer, Kerrie Brooks, spent much of yesterday giving her treatment, and Williams also stayed off the practice courts, trying to get as much rest as possible.
She's game to play and there's no question of her motivation after her courageous semifinal win over Belgium's Kim Clijsters on Thursday. Yet she also has a history of retiring or not playing matches if an injury is bad enough.
"As a rule, I never play with pain," she said. "I generally retire immediately. I've never been taught to play with pain. My parents always told us to put the racket in the bag, go off the court."
The key phrase is "as a rule." She re-strained the muscle in the third game of the first set against Clijsters, and it inhibited her serving for the rest of the match. Her first-serve speed, usually at around 95-105 mph, was in the 80s, but she had little trouble running or hitting ground strokes.
Williams, who has lost four straight Grand Slam finals to her younger sister, has resurrected the quality of her game the past 13 days. It would be unfortunate if after all the work she has put in, she couldn't be fit enough to play the final.
And if she does, in what sort of emotional position does that leave Serena? Would she want this Grand Slam enough to play to her sister's vulnerabilities?
Four times in the past five years, Venus Williams has given a walkover (did not start the match) or retired from a match because of injury.
In 1998 in San Diego, she quit in the third set of a quarterfinal match against Mary Pierce. In 2001, she gave a walkover to her sister in the semifinals at Indian Wells. In 2002, at the WTA championships, she retired in the opening set of her match against Clijsters. And this year, she quit in the third set of her final in Warsaw, Poland, against Amelie Mauresmo.
That's where the abdominal injury first showed up, and it has been lingering since.
"I would love to win here again," Venus said yesterday. "I've had a good tournament, fought through some tough situations and played well in general. It would be special to hold that trophy again because Wimbledon is very dear to me. It's a special place. It's where I won my first Grand Slam."
With Venus taking this tournament in 2000 and 2001 and Serena winning it last year, the champion will be a Williams for the fourth year in a row.
"It's not easy for me to play someone I care so much about," Serena said yesterday. Of course, living in the same house at Wimbledon, she knows everything about her sister's physical condition.
And although it's her sister, Serena has made it clear enough during the past year, in which she has won four Slams, that she has a more aggressive approach to winning tournaments than her older sister.
She likes being No. 1 in the world and she takes losses hard. There were tears and personal attacks on her conqueror, Justine Henin-Hardenne, after her semifinal loss at the French Open.
Now, on the verge of winning her sixth major, she has a chance to re-establish that she's clearly the best player.
The television ratings for this match might prove as interesting as the tennis. It's a Wimbledon final with the Williams sisters, the two best attractions in the women's game. But is the American public jaded by too many Venus vs. Serena finals?
That's a question that will be answered today ... if Venus answers the bell.
Charles Bricker is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Road to the final
Serena Williams (1)
First round - def. Jill Craybas, 6-3, 6-3.
Second round - def. Els Callens, 6-4, 6-4.
Third round - def. Laura Granville (28), 6-3, 6-1.
Fourth round - def. Elena Dementieva (15), 6-2, 6-2.
Quarterfinals - def. Jennifer Capriati (8), 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Semifinals - def. Justine Henin-Hardenne (3), 6-3, 6-2.
Championship - vs. Venus Williams (4).
Venus Williams (4)
First round - def. Stanislava Hrozenska, 6-2, 6-2.
Second round - def. Katarina Srebotnik, 6-4, 6-1.
Third round - def. Nadia Petrova (29), 6-1, 6-2.
Fourth round - def. Vera Zvonareva (16), 6-1, 6-3.
Quarterfinals - def. Lindsay Davenport (5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.
Semifinals - def. Kim Clijsters (2), 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Championship - vs. Serena Williams (1).
At stake: Women's singles title
Matchup: No. 1 seed Serena Williams vs. No. 4 seed Venus Williams
Career head-to-head: Serena leads 6-5; she leads 4-1 in Grand Slam finals
Time: 9 a.m.
TV: Ch. 11