Zaynab & Maryam Williams (age 8 and 6) are training hard to follow the steps of Venus and Serena ...
"AS THE girls clamber from the back of their father’s car, ringlets bounding, tennis rackets at the ready, preparing to sprint to the courts, the thought crosses your mind, but is dismissed as the consequence of one tot too many of the previous night’s cherry brandy. Could never happen. A zillion to one chance.
Watch them strike the ball, all bounding relish, running down every ball, the doublefisted backhands and wide-eyed joy and there is an immediate infusion of wonder.
“So,” Alan Jones, running a delighted eye over the latest addition to his academy’s sporting intake, says: “what do you make of my Williams sisters?”
What one makes of them is that the happiest of coincidences might, in ten years’ time, lead to one of the most remarkable of stories, that we may have a tale to tell of British Williams sisters that is every bit as incredible as that which has brought wealth and acclaim to the Americans who have borne that name on to court and catwalk with equal distinction.
At this first sight of Zainab, 8, and Maryam, 6, I was reminded of the recollection of Dave Rineberg, a coach from Florida, when he was first called to be a hitting partner for Venus, then 12, and Serena, 9.
“In one rally, Venus crossed the entire court with two panther-like bounds and ripped a two-handed backhand down the line for a winner. The talent was raw, but it was pure. I could see how everyone who had seen them marvelled in their abilities,” Rineberg, who went on to spend seven years as part of the Williams coterie, said.
Walle Williams was told the minute he put a racket in his daughters’ hands by many of those who saw them play that his girls had something. This was in Stratford, East London, where they once lived. Williams is from Waco, Texas (do not fret, he married Deborah from Britain and the girls were born in London), speaks in a whisper and is unlikely to put it about that he is in negotiation to purchase the Rockefeller Centre in New York or owns air space over India, as Richard Williams has been wont to claim.
Richard pushed his daughters to play. With Walle it is the other way around. “If they didn’t want to play tennis I wouldn’t make them,” he said, “but they get me up in the mornings to come here (to the Hazelwood Academy in North London). It’s ‘OK Dad, let’s go’ and we’re out of the door.”
It is more than an hour from Basildon, Essex, to Winchmore Hill, which means setting off before 6am, a routine that the Williamses have become well accustomed to. For Walle, it means he has to plan his shift work as a machine operator for a milk company, around his daughters’ needs. And like any other parent whose children want to play tennis as often as they can, there are insatiable demands on time and wallet. “Oh yes, they are after the newest line in rackets all the time,” he said.
As for now, Jones and his academy crew are coaching the sisters for the love of it, just watching them move, restless with desire like the other young athletes on a chill morning, is reward enough. There is also a thought nagging at the back of Jones’s mind — and this is a man who has coached 28 players who have appeared in singles at Wimbledon — that the sisters have a magic more than in simply their surname. As for now, that, and a desire to do all he can to bring them on, will have to do.
The Lawn Tennis Association is aware of the sisters, as a result of them performing at one of the LTA roadshows at Bisham Abbey this year. The invitation has already gone out for a second visit. And which of the grand-slam winning Williams sisters do the British aspire to become? Well, neither actually. The favourite of both is Maria Sharapova."
By Neil Harman (The Times)