Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 9, 2002
Gibson watches, keeps advice to a minimum
As the soul sisters played for the French Open title, their sole sister watched with unadorned pride. The pioneer Althea Gibson never misses a chance to behold her playing progeny
The telecast that will serve as the historical record of Serena Williams' 7-5, 6-3 victory over older sister Venus -- a trumpet call heralding Serena's arrival this week at No. 2 in the world behind Venus -- was delayed.
Tell Gibson about it.
In 1956 Gibson became the first woman of color to win the French Open, as part of a transcendent stretch that saw her win 16-of-18 tournaments she entered.
"Althea was saying the other day that she didn't think she'd ever win the French,'' said a friend, Fran Clayton Gray. "The clay surface didn't suit her game. She didn't think she had enough patience.''
If the Williams sisters of Palm Beach Gardens used to think the same thing, well, it figures. Gibson was an amalgam of Serena and Venus. She had Venus' tall, lean carriage and long reach and Serena's aggressive mind-set. The year after winning the French Open, Gibson added the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and became the first woman of color to ascend to No. 1 in women's tennis.
At 74, she wasn't sure she'd live to see something as wondrous as the Williams sisters' 1-2 punch to the gut of convention.
"She thought they could develop into players that could be 1 and 2,'' reported Gray, who watched Saturday's historic final with Gibson at the latter's apartment in East Orange, N.J. "She's very happy about them getting to No. 1 and 2."
Gibson grew up in hardscrabble Harlem. She had a wealth of athletic talent but money woes forced her out of the game in 1958, immediately after she successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles.
Gibson reached her prime 10 years before prize money spread to major tournaments. As she explained at the time of her retirement, "I am much richer in knowledge and experience but I have no money.''
No doubt Serena on Saturday didn't give Gibson much reason to talk to the television, as she is wont to do when Serena doesn't take advantage of her expanding arsenal of shots. Gray has watched matches with Gibson in the past in which Gibson has implored Serena to kindly remove herself from the baseline and mix up her shots.
Serena played as if she had Gibson in her ear, charging, hitting lobs and drop shots for winners. Their playful demeanor afterward suggested Saturday's match was a win-win situation for its combatants.
"Althea,'' said Gray, "is very proud of those girls.''
WE LOVE YOU QUEEN ALTHEA GIBSON!!!