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Young star laughs all way to the bank <br />By PAUL MALONE 31dec01

THE fun, apparently, in life on Planet Venus is to absorb the hurtful opinions, jealousies, rumour-mongering and highbrow agendas thrust on her.

And laugh at it all, which, as anyone who has heard the world's dominant female player speak for more than two consecutive minutes will know, is the soundtrack of her life on a perpetual loop.

"I have never really been one to worry about what someone else thinks of me," Venus Williams said between practice sessions yesterday for the Australian Women's Hardcourt championships at Royal Pines resort.

"It (fame) is hard these days. You can't control the opinions of others and if you try you'll have a heart attack. I just laugh at it. It's kind of funny to see what the next rumour is.

"No one ever says these things to me. Wherever I go, I have never met a person who was a hater. Maybe I will one day."

Having polarised debate in women's tennis ever since father Richard's ancient prophecy that they would be No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, Venus and sister Serena can only wonder what the total fallout of the all-Williams US Open final will be.

"We don't want to stop it there. We have talked about it a little bit," said Venus, who says her younger sister is her only friend on tour.

"The best part was the tennis for that two weeks was on another level because all sorts of celebrities were out there (at the US Open).

"There is a lot of competition for us, but Serena and I have a saying: if you can't do it for yourself, do it for me."

Over the years, the unspoken addition to the motto is that they don't necessarily do it for anyone else: like black Americans looking to the Williams sisters to make cultural statements on their behalf, thrusting the banner of race into their hands.

When American journalists were trying to prime her to lead the charge against Lleyton Hewitt over comments regarded as racially sensitive at the US Open, Venus Williams looked back at them and said she didn't have an opinion.

So, when she was asked at her first Gold Coast press conference about the most recent of her father's inflammatory claims about racism in tennis -- that Hewitt's comments were not surprising because Aborigines were "treated like dogs" in Australia -- she said she was not aware of the comment.

"I can only speak for myself," the Wimbledon-US Open double winner said later. "I feel increasingly people really try to put me in a bad position to say bad things about other people just because of the colour of my skin.

"I don't like it because I see people as people and for me to be asked to comment on things that aren't real, or supposed, or not even reality and I refuse to be put in that situation."

Williams notes that black athletes have "kind of taken over" sports in which they have applied themselves.

Martina Navratilova's nine Wimbledon titles and Steffi Graf's 22 majors make Williams' head spin and the fashion-design student says she does not know what her career span will be.

"Other parts of my life are priorities, rather than tennis. Tennis is just my job," said the 21-year-old with a $72 million clothing contract and $19 million in career prizemoney.

"After a few years, it might be time to wrap it up. Martina Navratilova and Steffi, maybe they had more of a dedication to the game. Their achievements are pretty monumental. I can't play those type of events, day in day out. It would fry me."

Asked if she would stick around long enough to increase her four majors to 10 or 12, she said: "I think I have enough time to do better than that."

Looking back at interviews which the sisters conducted five or six years ago, Venus Williams is struck by how they would "laugh all the time and talk all kinds of foolish talk".

"It must have been annoying. I've grown up a lot since then. I'm not as annoying, but I still laugh, almost.

Venus ~ Serena ~ Nadal

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