Two Williamses, One Trophy
At Wimbledon, Sisters Again Meet in Match That Determines Major Title
By Rachel Nichols
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 6, 2002; Page D01
WIMBLEDON, England, July 5 -- There are emotions that are supposed to accompany this kind of thing: two sisters, competing in the final of Wimbledon, two sisters, dominating this sport in a way no siblings ever have before.
But if Venus and Serena Williams wanted to express joy, or pride, or excitement at the notion of Saturday's all-Williams final -- much less celebrate that they have met this way three times in the last four Grand Slams -- they had to do it in private today, or at least within the shelter of the tennis court, where they won their quarterfinal doubles match, 6-2, 6-0.
Once they stepped outside the white lines and became singles players again, the smiles disappeared, replaced by a defensiveness that has all too regularly been required to stand guard at their side. And sure enough, within the hour, came reports of a new barrage.
Serena's semifinal opponent has said on French television that she thinks the final will be fixed. "I think that it's fixed; I don't have any information, nothing at all, but having seen the matches, it could be fixed," Amelie Mauresmo said. Justine Henin, Venus's semifinal opponent, thinks fans would rather see other players in the finals. John McEnroe believes the Williamses' matches are not fixed now, but has some thoughts about their previous matches.
"We're not here to talk about John McEnroe, anything he says or does," Serena finally said. Last week, she had more patience for these subjects, pointing out that if the sisters were fixing matches, "I think that I should have at least won a few more Grand Slams -- I mean, it took me forever to win another one. Just up until a few months ago, Venus had this command on me."
But by today, she had heard enough, as had her mother, Oracene.
"It's just so untrue," Oracene said. "I don't know, but I think there's still this slave master mentality that they should be aggressive toward each other -- people forget they're sisters. They're always going to act a certain way toward each other."
Oracene added it would be naive to think race isn't at least a factor in the way people see the Williams sisters, although she acknowledged that in this sport, clouds of criticism have often surrounded whoever has climbed to the top, regardless of their color.
Pete Sampras was accused of stifling tennis with the dullness of his dominance; Monica Seles was told her grunting unfairly tripped opponents. And while rivalries are supposed to be the elixir to such talk, forcing actual match drama to replace gossip, Venus and Serena have yet to establish themselves as adversaries in the public eye, despite their 5-3 record against each other (Venus leads) or their different personalities.
They live together, travel together, eat together. They plan to practice together the day of the final, and today on the doubles court, they exchanged everything from shopping secrets to serving tips. They also say they feel like they both win when one wins -- even if the scorecard officially lists the other as the loser -- and that attitude, while not unusual between siblings, is considered highly suspect between elite tennis players.
"They have some responsibility in this, because they know that the general public wants to see a contest, that they want to feel they can cheer for one or the other of them, and they haven't always been able to provide that separation," said former player Pam Shriver, although more than anything, she added, any backlash against Venus and Serena may be part of another time-honored tennis tradition: jealousy.
"I think the way they've just separated themselves from the rest of the field in the last few months -- my God, it's been like the Red Sea -- has gotten to some people," she said. "But you have to remember that from the very beginning with the Williams sisters, players have said insensitive things. I think they are just such a powerful combination that players don't know what to do with them."
Of course, much of the talk could be quelled if the quality of matches between the two was simply higher, and while the first set of last month's French Open featured flashes of just how exciting rallies between the No. 1 and No. 2 player in the world might be, Venus and Serena have yet to put together a consistently thrilling match.
Whether that will change on Saturday -- or anytime soon -- is anyone's guess, including Venus's. "I don't know -- I've been posed this question so many times, I don't know," she said, although she does think her and Serena's domination of the sport is good for the popularity of the game.
"I think that it's just something unprecedented, never happened before," she said. "That's how tennis gets in the news, when there are amazing things happening."
For now, at least, the sisters will continue to practice together, to live together, to huddle together against the wind of discontent that occasionally sweeps their way. There are plenty of fans for whom that is enough -- "I'm approached a lot by people who say they've learned it's okay to be tough and move forward with their lives from watching the girls, and that's quite a compliment," Oracene said. And while there is also a contingent who wouldn't mind more variety at the top of the women's game, they might just have to wait a while.
Right now, the only real measuring sticks the Williamses have in the sport are each other, and while so far they haven't been able to simultaneously submit their best games for high-level comparison, they certainly intend to keep trying.
"I really want to win this tournament this year because Venus has won it two years in a row, and to see all those plates in our little trophy area, I want one of those with my name on it," said Serena, who has won the last two times she and her sister have played.
"Sometimes for me, I get disgusted because I don't feel that I'm playing up to her par. It really brings out the best in me. That's what we should do, really bring out the best in each other."
I HEAR YOU MAMA ORACENE!
Peace and Love