By Ian Ransom MELBOURNE, Australia (Reuters) – An Australian Open, electrified by the revivals of seasoned champions, will bathe in the warm glow of nostalgia today when the Williams sisters contest the women’s final at Rod Laver Arena.Melbourne Park was where Venus and Serena Williams first clashed in a tour match in 1998 and nearly 20 years on, the Americans will add another chapter to tennis’s greatest sibling rivalry.In 1998, they were teenagers with cornrows and coloured beads in their hair sharing in an awkward second-round encounter that 17-year-old Venus won in two sets.Venus hugged her sister, younger by a year, at the net and apologised for having to “take (her) out”.Today, 35-year-old Serena will bid for a record 23rd grand slam title in the professional era while Venus will strive for her eighth, and first in almost nine years.Serena drew level with Germany’s Steffi Graff on 22 when she claimed her seventh Wimbledon title last year but her crowning moment was delayed when, as top seed, she was upset in the U.S. Open semi-finals by Czech Karolina Pliskova.Serena no longer cares to talk about the record and stiffened when asked about it after her semi-final victory over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, as if the weight of such an achievement might prove too heavy.But a seventh title at Melbourne Park would add further credit to Serena’s claim as the greatest of all-time, despite being one short of Australia’s Margaret Court, whose 24 major titles were split between the amateur and professional eras.For 13th seed Venus, her first grand slam final in eight years is already a stunning victory of perseverance in the face of her struggles to manage Sjogren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain.Both players stormed into the semi-finals without a set dropped.However, where Serena romped into the final with a 50-minute demolition of Lucic-Baroni, Venus needed to summon her peerless experience to fend off feisty fellow American Coco Vandeweghe in three sets.Today’s final will be the Williams sisters ninth at a grand slam and their first since Wimbledon in 2009, where Serena won in two sets.RIVALRY SHAPED GAMEAs tempting as it may be, to see the Melbourne Park decider as a last flickering of a rivalry that shaped the women’s game for a decade may be premature.Eras have come and gone but Serena has never left the stage, winning nine grand slam titles since turning 30.Venus spent four years in the wilderness from 2011-14, a period in which she was unable to surpass a fourth round at any of the majors.But since a drought-breaking quarter-final at the 2015 Australian Open, Venus has risen again.It took her sister to end her run at Wimbledon in the fourth round that year and again at the U.S. Open in the quarter-finals a few months later.Her semi-final run at Wimbledon last year was further evidence that Venus still has the hunger and the game to trouble the best.“I think people realise this is an amazing job, so it’s best to keep it,” she said of her longevity.Whether she can still beat the best will be decided today, where she will bid for her first Australian Open title, 14 years after her only other final at Melbourne Park ended in a three-set loss to her sister.Serena, who holds a 16-11 winning record over Venus over their careers and leads 6-2 in the grand slam finals, is favourite to win but knows better than to underestimate her sister’s competitive spirit.“She’s my toughest opponent — nobody has ever beaten me as much as Venus has,” she said.“This is a story. This is something that I couldn’t write a better ending. This is a great opportunity for us to start our new beginning.”
A sluggish offensive effort in the first half for USC was overcome by a blazing shooting spree in the final period of play, as the Trojans came away with a 77-59 victory against visiting Cal at the Galen Center on Sunday. Sophomore guard Jonah Matthews continued his recent hot streak, scoring 16 points on four 3-pointers against Cal. Tal Volk | Daily TrojanUSC was led in scoring by senior guard Elijah Stewart and sophomore guard Jonah Mathews, who both chipped in 16 points apiece for the Trojans. The victory is USC’s sixth-consecutive in conference play. The Trojans (17-6 overall, 8-2 in Pac-12) currently find themselves a half-game behind conference-leading Arizona in the Pac-12 standings. “It’s always difficult winning in the Pac-12,” said USC senior guard Jordan McLaughlin, who finished with 9 points (3-of-7 FG) and 10 assists against Cal. “The fact that we’ve been able to pull off six straight wins, we just want to keep it going. We’re entering one of the tougher parts of our schedule now, so we’ve just got to keep taking it day-by-day.” In the closing seconds of the first half, Mathews connected on a 3-point field goal that gave USC a narrow 31-29 lead at the break. The Trojans would not relinquish this lead for the remainder of the contest. “[Mathews] brings a spark on defense and offense for us,” McLaughlin said. “Coach gives us all a lot of freedom to shoot the ball, but especially to [Mathews]. When he’s in rhythm, he can knock down 8-of-10 shots from anywhere on the floor.” The first half saw USC shoot 11-for-34 (32.4 percent) from the field. The Trojans shot 2-of-8 (25 percent) from beyond the arc in the opening half. “We took some really tough, contested shots in the lane (in the first half),” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “[First half struggles] came down to shot selection … We only had four assists in the first half, we had 13 in the second half. That’s why we were able to score more points later.” USC came out firing offensively to open up the second half. Over the first seven minutes of the second period, USC went on a 15-5 run to open their lead on Cal to 46-34. The run was powered by three 3-point field goals from Stewart to open the half. “[Stewart’s] been doing that for us for four years now,” Enfield said, regarding Stewart’s hot-shooting. “He’s a great shooter when his feet are set, and we need him to do that for our team. He’s a big part of our team … When he’s knocking down shots, it probably means our team is about to go on a run.” Stewart, who was held scoreless in the first half (0-for-3 FG), was a major catalyst for USC offensively when it widened the gap on Cal (7-15, 1-8) in the second half. Stewart hit 4-of-5 3-point field goal attempts in the second half, enroute to a 16-point performance.For the second consecutive game, the Trojans were without junior forward Bennie Boatwright (averaging 15.2 PPG this season), who is dealing with a foot injury. In a second half, which saw USC outscore Cal 46-30, the Trojans shot 8-for-13 from 3-point range. Overall, USC was 17-for-29 (58.6 percent) from the field in the second half.Cal senior forward Marcus Lee finished with the game-high in both points scored, 23, and rebounds, 12. Golden Bears freshman guard Darius McNeill contributed 13 points in a losing-effort for Cal. USC’s largest lead of the night came on a dunk from freshman forward Victor Uyaelunmo with just over two minutes remaining in regulation. The dunk gave the Trojans a 75-53 lead on Cal.“Despite the score, that was probably the hardest 20-point game I’ve played in a long time,” Stewart said. “[Cal] just kept coming back and staying in it. So it was a good win.” USC held the Golden Bears to 11-of-34 (32.4 percent) shooting from the field in the second half. Overall, Cal finished Sunday shooting 22-for-57 (38.6 percent) from the field. USC improved to 8-0 this season, when holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting. The Golden Bears have now lost eight-consecutive games, the longest losing streak for Cal since the 1992 season. USC will next take the floor on Feb. 3, when it hits the road to face crosstown rival UCLA (15-7, 6-4) at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.