Beating big sister bittersweet for Serena

— -- NEW YORK -- As she folded her younger sister into her arms Tuesday night, Venus Williams smiled big, consoling Serena in a moment she knew was somehow tougher for the winner.

It was a scene, smack in the middle of Arthur Ashe Stadium, that was nonetheless private, shared by the only two people who could conceive of how it felt to go to battle with, as Serena put it, "your best friend."

And finally, it was an embrace that struck a chord with siblings and sports fans alike, wrapping up 98 crisp minutes of high-quality tennis won by Serena 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 and sending her off to the US Open semifinals just four sets and two matches short of sports immortality.

"Losing isn't fun," said Venus, in case we might have underestimated her purpose, "but probably the most gratifying [thing] is I'm still very excited to see Serena have an opportunity to win the four majors."

For Serena, it was a night she wore on her face afterward, sitting through her postmatch news conference with an expression of both weariness and impatience, admitting to a veteran Italian reporter that she would rather be in bed than answering his question.

"It's probably the toughest match I have played in a really, really, really long time where I wasn't actually beating myself," Serena said. "I was out there facing an incredibly tough opponent."

Though Venus was arguably in her best form in years at times throughout the tournament, and played to that level during most of Tuesday night's match, Serena also is well aware her sister is 35. Serena tested Venus' mobility often, catching her at several points with well-timed drop shots and offensive lobs.

Otherwise, short rallies were the theme of the night. And as it so often does with these two, it came down to their service games, with both converting more than 70 percent in first-service points won and both drilling serves faster than 120 mph. But it was Serena who held one more break of serve.

"She has, of course, a wonderful mental game, but she also has ability to come up with a great shot when she needs it," Venus said. "That's just been the hallmark of her game."

Given she's a six-time champion here and winner of the past three US Opens, it's tough to rank which Serena statistics are most impressive. But the fact that she has now won 26 straight Grand Slam matches in 2015 and 33 straight dating back to last year's Open is resounding enough. And as Serena looks to a Thursday semifinal against 43rd-ranked Roberta Vinci and marches ever closer to the calendar-year Slam and her 22nd career major title, her sister, as always, leads the cheering section.

"I think that would be huge, not just for me, but for my family just for what it represents and how hard we have worked and where we come from," Venus said.

"But at the same time, if it doesn't happen, it's not going to make or break you. We don't have anything to prove. She has nothing to prove. She's really the best ever, so what are you going to do? Just try to make it. If you don't, then that's that and go to the next one."

Asked if she allowed herself a moment to look around and take in the scene, the implication that maybe this was the last meeting between the sisters, Venus would not go there -- nor should she.

"With luck and chance and blessings from God and [if] we stay healthy, we'll play again," she said.

Venus left the court quickly after their 27th meeting, allowing her younger sister by 15 months to soak in the appreciative crowd's adulation.

"I will look back on it fondly," Serena said of their conversation at the end. "It means a lot to me. Obviously, we are very, very tough competitors on the court, but once the match is over and the second it's done, we're sisters, we're roommates ... we're all that."

Their words at the net, however, will stay their own, Venus remembering only a few and Serena claiming not to remember at all. But then, some things are not meant to share. And sometimes, as in this case, it's the simple gesture that endures.

"I just said, 'I'm so happy for you,'" Venus said. "I don't remember what else I said after that. Just moments. Just the moment."