Women?s Game Turns on Axis of the Williamses
It's a Times Select section so for you unsubscribers here is the article at length:
By HARVEY ARATON Published: July 3, 2007
They are the personification of the rain clouds at Wimbledon, storming in, rolling out, churning emotions, wreaking havoc. Wherever they go, the Williamses are a continuous, compelling drama, a subject of essential tennis debate.
What would the women?s game ? and especially America?s ? be without them?
Wimbledon slogged along yesterday into its second week, and the story was about whether the Williamses would last the day even more than it was about the weather. As it turned out, Venus Williams survived a lame third-round performance against Akiko Morigami before her not-so-little-sister, Serena, beat what seemed to be the insurmountable odds of pulling up lame.
Rain saved her after her left calf muscle spasmed deep in the second set against Daniela Hantuchova, making her writhe on the grass, grimace, cry and limp her way to a 4-2 tie-break deficit. At that point, the television cameras caught Venus mouthing the words, ?Come on, rain.? Then Richard Williams stood up and pointed to the sky, his personal casting call for the role of Richard Almighty.
The spitting became a downpour. Play was suspended. In the evening, Serena returned nearly two hours later to lose the tie breaker, psych out the fragile Hantuchova with thunderous winners and stiff-legged movement, limp away with after a 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-2 victory and leave her mother, Oracene Price, an exhausted maternal mess.
Price described the ?two crazy matches? to begin the second week of this nutty Wimbledon and her overall day as worse than watching all those joyless Venus-Serena Grand Slam finals. ?Cause with each other, one?s going to win, one?s going to lose, it?s inevitable,? she said.
The vigil times two of this fascinating tennis mother does not end. Next, Price will have to watch Serena play a quarterfinal against No. 1 Justine Henin tomorrow, while Venus, still playing catch-up, tackles No. 2 Maria Sharapova today in the fourth round. The Williamses are the last Americans in the women?s draw, no big surprise, as decades of tradition and excellence have come down to them.
The big names they once elbowed aside to much reveling and resistance ? Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport ? have moved on, and as Price said in the players? lounge between her daughters? matches, ?We have nothing coming up.?
By ?we,? she meant the United States tennis family at large, not her own, which has 13 Grand Slam titles, 8 claimed by Serena, which is more than most countries have cobbled together over the entire course of women?s tennis history. But nobody has yet to certify the new can?t-miss American women?s prodigies ? or the men?s, for that matter ? and the sport is gaining footholds in distant continents and atrophying in America.
People may think we like it this way, but to me it?s a burden,? Price said, and that was before she had to suffer with Serena.
She said she got her first glimpse of the new women?s tennis order several years ago, on a trip with her daughters to Moscow. ?You saw all those little girls being trained and trained, and they?re all playing on the Tour,? she said. ?And now you?ve got the Serbs and the Chinese, and the thing that most of these girls have in common is that they?re hungry, people who want to better themselves through sports.?
Richard Williams, her ex-husband, speaks out about this occasionally, usually in starker, more race-based language. The reality is that it?s more of an economic issue, a developmental sea change from the old country club model.
?Our people talk about it, but it takes a real commitment,? Price said. ?It?s ridiculous that we don?t have young players following Venus and Serena.?
Minutes ago, it seemed that her Venus was the future, a gangly, confident teenager, beaded braids swaying like chimes on a sun-drenched New York afternoon.
Where have the years and all those well-struck winners gone? Yesterday, in a mixture of Wimbledon gray and Williams gloom, Price was looking down on Court 2, long known here as the Graveyard Court, watching Venus make a mess of a match she should have won easily, wondering if she was watching another Venus, now 27, slide inexorably toward tennis career burial.
The good news as Morigami stepped up to the service line, four points from ousting Venus, a three-time Wimbledon champion, was that Venus was not returning the gaze of her mother, as she had earlier in the match.
?That?s when I knew she was focused, not ready to lose,? Price said. ?Not yet.?
In a blur of winners from Venus and a bundle of nerves that enveloped Morigami, Williams won four straight games to win, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. In a match continued from Saturday, Williams mastered Morigami, also 27, who has never gotten the third round of a Grand Slam event, is ranked 71st and is all of 5 feet 5 inches.
Survival becomes more problematic today against Sharapova, someone Venus?s own size and status. And tomorrow, in the abstract sense, beyond Wimbledon and 2007, even her mother wouldn?t venture a guess.
?I don?t really know,? Price said when asked how much longer the storybook saga of the Williams sisters will continue. ?I know Serena still loves it.?
This was as direct an indirect answer as a devoted mother could give, and how it would resonate several hours later.
Richard Williams said he told Serena during the rain delay, ?Let?s go home, baby.? Price also said she wanted her to quit but added, ?She?s not going to listen to me, not when it comes to Wimbledon.?
When Venus was dominant and Serena was the wannabe kid sister, people used to say Serena wouldn?t or couldn?t fight through adversity. This was a myth she debunked long ago and again yesterday, when she bested her own body, beat the odds and by winning the third set so handily, the downpour that suspended play for the night.
Minutes later, in the players? lounge again and under a canopy, Price shook her head and forced a smile.
?I had quite a day, I sure did,? she said, her emotions churning as she stayed out of the rain at the end of a typically stormy Williams tennis family day.