July 04, 2005
Venus ready to rule the galaxy
By Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent
RICHARD WILLIAMS may act in the players’ box like a member of the paparazzi on heat but when it comes to rationalising the prospects of the daughter for whom, when she was 3, he was devising ways to make her legs stronger, there is none more fascinating.
From the cradle to a brave, unremitting champion, Venus Williams came and swept all before her in SW19, including those whose folly was to dismiss her credentials as a grand-slam champion because she had lost this year to the likes of Tatiana Golovin, Silvia Farina Elia and Sesil Karatantcheva, her only title had arrived on a clay court in Istanbul, and because she seemed to no longer carry the fear factor.
Appearances can be an illusory. What many had forgotten is that whatever she had shown on the surface and the results column, inside Venus beats the heart of a lioness. It had to do with her being the “first” sister, who carried the burden of her father’s assertion after she had come to the fore that “there’s another one following who is going to be even better”, who felt the impact of those words in the succession of Serena’s victories over her (and everyone else), who had to hold it all together after the death in a shooting of her sister, Yetunde, and who took it as an affront when the sisters’ commitment to the sport was raised time and again.
And yes, this would have been written had she lost in the final to Lindsay Davenport on Saturday, as she came perilously close to doing.
What makes it more remarkable is how Venus found a way to win, and for whom winning has never lost its addiction. Her father was tucking ravenously into pasta and cranberry less than an hour after Venus’s cavorting celebration of her third Wimbledon title.
“I have just told her,” he said, “if I was her I would look to be No 1 again. She needs to work on her technique, on her movement, to go down the ‘T’ more with her serve, to play her forehand down the line rather than crosscourt and if she works on those, when she comes to the US Open (Maria) Sharapova will be there and Venus can whip her again, Lindsay will be there and she can get her. You don’t want to win just this time so it becomes a fluke. Get your technique together and be ready to roll.”
Richard confessed how close he was to tears to see Venus enjoying the moment of her 4-6, 7-6, 9-7 victory, reminding him of how she used to bound around as a child who never stayed still for a minute. And it was the ideology their father instilled that helped to see his children over the times when no one believed in them but family. “We were never allowed to say ‘can’t’ at all at our house, ” Venus said. “We weren’t allowed to be negative. We weren’t allowed to do any of those kinds of things.
“The most annoying part (of criticism of her) was the fact that when you’re playing your best, doing your best, so many people want to be on your side, but if things get a little . . . or you don’t win every match, there’s so many people who want to put you down. So many people who thrive on negativity, so many people who are excited to see a story like that. That’s the part I was disappointed in, because I don’t think that is the only way it has to be because that’s not how I was raised.”
There could only be rejoicing, not only in the Williams family, but also in women’s tennis as a whole that the horrors of the French Open were not revisited on Wimbledon. That the semifinals and final were real matches, that Davenport’s contribution was to remind us all that true sportsmanship is alive and well, that grace in a person and their manner overcomes all.
So the bandwagon moves to the United States and a hardcourt season of glorious possibility. Because she is home, it is the place where Davenport has thrived — remember her 17-match win streak in the build-up to last year’s US Open? — where Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters ought to offer a real challenge, where Sharapova and the Russians will be recharged to contend. But where Venus, who won back-to-back Wimbledon and US Opens four years ago, is on a different planet.