By RAAKHEE MIRCHANDANI
August 19, 2007 -- TENNIS goddess Venus Williams has balls. After years of campaigning, the California-based Wimbledon winner served up an ace this year in France - finally convincing Wimbledon and French Open tennis officials to offer equal prize money to female winners as they do to male ones.
She was also the first beneficiary: Williams won this year's tournament and took home nearly $1.4 million, the same as Roger Federer, who won the men's title.
From hot pants to her sister Serena's scary serve, The Post spoke to Williams about all the things that matter to her: fashion, sisterhood and playing like a girl.
Q: You helped make history this year - 2007 marks the first year that women were offered the same amount of prize money as men. And French tennis president Christian Bimes said you were the girl who finally changed all the boys' minds. What did you say to them?
A: What happens at Wimbledon is all kinds of meetings go on. And there's an important meeting before the finals, and I went to speak to them about how it was important for women around the world for us to set an example. I asked them to close their eyes and imagine how they would want their daughter to be treated. I told them we all have the same heart, and asked them if they could feel the difference between if it was a woman or a man sitting next to them. I hope no one was peeking. I don't think they were because it worked. We have to set an example for women around the world.
Q: Did you know that this would be the year everything would change?
A: We didn't know, but we knew we were going to fight. It was very exciting. But when I got the news, I was pretty surprised. I was already planning our next move.
Q: And then you won Wimbledon and became the first woman to actually benefit from the equal cash policy. Now that's success, right?
A: I'd love to cap it off by holding another U.S. Open trophy. Thankfully, I've got some practice doing that.
Q: Speaking of practice, do you and Serena practice together?
A: We practice when we get up. Sometimes she gets up earlier. But when I hear the door open I race to get out of bed. We work very hard, but sometimes we like to sleep in. But sleeping in for us is like 9 a.m.
Q: Who is your greatest tennis rival?
A: Serena, definitely. She runs as fast, she serves as big; she's my match. It's scary to play yourself across the net. She is the player I have the most respect for. She's unpredictable, and you can't guess where she's going to hit the ball. Her serve is huge, and the scariest part is my serve is bigger but she can return it just as fast as I hit it. Do I hit low? Do I hit high? When I walk out on the court when I play her I'm thinking about what she might do.
Q: Your boyfriend is a golfer. Are you both just as competitive in real life as you are on the court and the links?
A: He wants to win at everything. I leave my competition on the court, but he doesn't. We compete at pingpong and video games, and recently we've been playing “Metroids,” and he thinks he's really good. But I'm helping him; it's a hard game. But I do try and win - I don't just let him win.
Q: It seemed like this year there was an unusually high number of fashion stories that came out of Wimbledon. First it was Sharapova's Swan Lake dress. Then Golovin's red knickers and your hot pants - do you think people pay too much attention to your backside and not enough to your backhand?
A: I think even back in the day with Billie Jean King and Gussie Moran, who had the ruffle panties, it's been a love affair with tennis and fashion forever. It's no different now. I think certain people were really into the fashion, and some women did daring things.
Q: Do you think the fashion overpowers the sport?
A: I don't think so. For me, when I'm playing well, I feel like I'm putting on a great show. Even though it's my life and my career, it's so important to me. And when I hear people say “Wow!” I know I'm putting on a great show.
I hope people are talking about my fashion, for sure. But I sure hope they're talking about my forehand, too.
Q: It's got to be hard not to considering your Wilson Factor limited-edition racket with 22-carat gold leaf laid into the frame! Can you tell us about your Open wardrobe?
A: No. I'm sorry. I just can't. It's a big surprise.
Q: Looking back, which of your crazy outfits would you rethink?
A: It was the '03 Australian Open, and I was wearing this weird dress. It was white with racer stripes across the chest and it just wasn't me. I didn't design it, and I had nothing to do with it.
Q: Do you have any wardrobe superstitions?
A: I wouldn't wear yellows, red or lime green for a while because I had lost important matches in those colors.
But I was just being silly. Since that time, I've started wearing them all.
Born: Venus Ebone Starr Williams, June 17, 1980, in Lynwood, Calif.
Show them the money: Venus isn't the only tennis pro to petition for female players' rights. In 1972, legendary tennis great Billie Jean King threatened to boycott the 1973 U.S. Open if they didn't begin awarding women the same amount of prize money they awarded the men. She didn't win the following year, but Margaret Smith Court did - and she got her fair share.
Top design: Venus is founder and CEO of the design firm “V Starr Interiors.” As a part of the U.S. bid package for New York to host the 2012 games, V Starr helped design the Olympic athletes apartments.