Posted on Tue, Jun. 11, 2002
Dad didn't attend the historic match.
Didn't watch it on TV.
Didn't follow it by radio or Internet.
His daughters were dabbling in something unprecedented. Not just something unprecedented in their sport. Something rather unprecedented in all of American sports.
But Richard Williams wasn't much interested in the history, or the result. Either way, one of his girls, Venus or Serena, was going to be a champion. Again. Ho-hum. So, in that way, that clay in France wasn't really all that different than the asphalt backyard where the girls used to play in Compton. More glamorous? Sure. More interesting? Not really. Richard has never watched every time his girls play each other, not in Compton and not now.
So on Saturday, he received his French Open updates by accident, while pumping gas or running errands and having excited strangers recognize him and approach with scores. While his daughters were fighting over a major, Dad was busy in New Orleans, talking to the police chief about youth programs.
''You hope for this; you plan for it,'' Richard says from his home in Palm Beach Gardens. ``But, when it happens, it scares the hell out of you.''
He laughs here, the laugh of contentment, the laugh of a man who is right, and has been all along. He told us this would happen, back when we were brushing him off as another delusional Tennis Dad. But now his girls are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, the first time siblings have climbed that high together. The Williams family has turned women's tennis into its personal playpen.
There is no shortage of remarkable relatives in sports, chief among them the six Sutter brothers who emerged from the same 800 square-foot Alberta house to play five NHL seasons together, but this is something else entirely. You can go through Joe and Dom DiMaggio, through a bunch of Niekros and Forsches and Boones, through Walter and Eddie Payton in football and Dominique and Gerald Wilkins or Dick and Tom VanArsdale in basketball, without ever finding this kind of sports dominance among siblings.
This isn't half-brothers Livan and ''El Duque'' merely overcoming odds to reach the major leagues together; this is them pitching against each other in the World Series after just having won both Cy Young Awards.
Only lacrosse champions Gary and Paul Gait approach the Williams sisters for sibling success, but that doesn't really count because, well, um, its lacrosse. The money and attention in tennis lures a vastly wider pool of talent than lacrosse, world-wider.
Nobody has overcome more staggering odds than Venus and Serena. They've grown up in America's living room, so we're sort of numb to their implausible success by now. But chances are better of you winning the lottery two weeks in a row and then being hit by a meteor than they are of the two best women tennis players in the world emerging from the same family.
Richard is supposed to be insane, certifiably. But he apparently knows some things we don't, which is the beauty of teetering between lunacy and genius. His girls are not only champions but also smart, well-adjusted, loving and normal, the latter of which is no small accomplishment in a tennis world that tends to devour its young.
Venus and Serena have had the kind of famous childhood that sends the likes of Drew Barrymore to rehab at 13. But they haven't merely survived it; they've flourished, and in a way siblings never have. They are taking college classes by mail and computer, and their father, done with the hardest part of his job now, figures tennis excellence will bore them soon enough.
''I'm getting out of the way,'' he says. ``I've been trying to step back for a long time. I've been telling Venus and Serena the last three years that I don't know if I want to go back out there anymore. It's time for Venus and Serena to go on their own. It wouldn't surprise me if Venus got out of tennis in three years or sooner. I don't think Venus and Serena are going to be at this tennis thing long at all.''
Doubt him at your own risk.
Because his résumé makes him sound a lot more like a prophet than a lunatic.