Sister act 'sad for women's tennis' says Mauresmo
By Robert Philip (Filed: 05/07/2002)
Girls are spectators and cheerleaders; perfect preparation for the adult role of women . . . to stand attractively on the sidelines of history and cheer the men who make the decisions - Sixties feminist Kathryn Clarenbach.
According to locker-room whispers, while Venus and Serena Williams are actively encouraged to pursue sporting careers, it is the fella on the sidelines, father Richard, who remains the patriarchal decision-maker in the family. If you believe the tennis rumour-mill, it was Poppa Williams who decreed that Serena should surrender without fight against her big sister in last year's US Open final, a favour Venus returned (again under parental orders) at the French Open final four weeks ago.
The plot thickens; in the event of yet another all-Williams final at Wimbledon 2002, so we are informed, Venus had already been promised the title, thereby becoming the sixth woman since the War to record three successive victories (following fellow-American quartet Louise Brough, Maureen Connolly, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, plus Germany's Steffi Graf), in return for assisting Serena's triumphal passage in the US Open at Flushing Meadows in September.
Assuming the Williams siblings contest each and every Grand Slam final for the foreseeable future, tennis's four glittering prizes will, therefore, be shared out on a One to me, one to you . . . two to me, two to you . . . tit-for-tat basis; an exercise in cynicism and opportunism that will be greeted with 'I-told-you-so' winks from conspiracy theorists and which will appall those of us who believe any sporting contest should be exactly that, a 'contest' and not a carefully-choreographed exhibition match. In fairness, the Williams troupe have consistently denied any such 'match-fixing' arrangements exist.
Fortunately, whatever power he may or may not wield over his daughters, Richard Williams has no control over the other kids on the block and so the Centre Court was treated to two vastly entertaining if statistically lop-sided semi-final contests. Defending champion Venus defeated sixth-seeded Belgian Justine Henin 6-3, 6-2, as a prelude to newly-installed world No 1 Serena overcoming 11th-seeded Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-1. You just wish Mr Williams would take his little darlings over to the local park tomorrow afternoon to play behind a private privet hedge and inform us of the result afterwards rather than stage a repeat of the soulless 'final' in Paris where the vanquished Venus, rather than stamp her foot, smash a racket or put itching powder in her sister's socks, smilingly jostled with the photographers to get a happy snap of Serena holding the trophy for the family album.
Runner-up in three sets to Williams the Elder here in last year's final, Henin has been described by John McEnroe as the 'player who most reminds me of me . . .' (a compliment to her flowing style rather than a comment on any brattishness) and her honey-sweet single-handed backhand remained a thing of beauty even in defeat. With both players willing to engage in faster-than-the-eye volleying exchanges at the net, it often appeared we were watching a doubles match such was the blur of figures in white. Unfortunately for the 5ft 5in Belgian, she frequently had to 'win' every point three or four times such was Williams' uncanny ability to extend that telescopic right arm and conjure a return from a seemingly impossible position.
Here was a 77-minute match which had it all . . . lightning groundstroke winners, subtle changes of pace and spin, delicate drop-shots, 14-stroke rallies of geometrically implausible angles and cunning lobs (although, as Henin discovered, lobbing the 6ft 1in Williams is like trying to lob the Post Office Tower). Invariably, however, the decisive blow was struck by the American.
Resplendent in a shimmering halter-neck number which started eye-poppingly low and ended very abruptly, the exotically-christened Venus Ebone Starr Williams may have been in imperious mood on court, but was strangely tongue-tied afterwards. With the unsavoury memory of Paris still fresh in the mind, what can the sisters do to bring out the best in one another. "I don't know. I've been posed this question so many times I just don't know . . ." Well, then, what is the best match they have ever staged? "I don't know . . ." Okay, let's turn to the Henin match; did you play better today than you did in last year's final or did Justine play worse. "I don't know . . . I guess I don't know much today . . ." No, I guess you don't.
Mauresmo, so assured in her quarter-final rout of Jennifer Capriati 24 hours earlier, simply had no response to Serena Williams' awesome power. This was a heavyweight versus a middleweight; however hard the Frenchwoman hit the ball, Williams hit it back harder. Three forehands, in particular, struck from well behind the baseline landed with the sizzle of a raw T-bone being slapped down on a red-hot griddle, leaving Mauresmo shaking her head in disbelief and the Centre Court crowd in stunned silence.
Having replaced her big sister as the world No 1, Serena put the chances of two siblings contesting the Wimbledon final at "about a million to one. It's tough enough to raise one great player, that's why I appreciate my parents so much. No matter what people say about my mom and dad, hey, they've made some champions". Mauresmo was less delighted by the prospect of yet another Williams family final. "I think it's a little bit sad for women's tennis. My prediction? Well, you'll have to ask them for that . . ."
It was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, who outraged feminists of the day with his pronouncement: "Women have but one task, that of crowning the winner with garlands." It would be nice to think Richard Williams will not decide which of his daughters to crown with garlands on the Centre Court come tomorrow.
This is indeed comical relief