IT’S ABOUT TIME
RICHARD WILLIAMS: USTA WAITED TOO LONG FOR GIBSON NIGHT
By MARC BERMAN
August 27, 2007 -- Richard Williams’ daughters, Serena and Venus, will play back-to-back first-round matches as a symbolic part of tonight’s 50th anniversary tribute to Althea Gibson winning the U.S. Open.
However, the outspoken Richard Williams ripped the USTA for paying attention to Gibson’s pioneering achievements too late, leaving opening night at Ashe Stadium empty in his eyes.
“I don’t think the USTA thought about Althea when she was alive,” Richard Williams told The Post yesterday. “It doesn’t mean anything. If she meant so much, they would’ve been interested in her when she was alive. It’s very wrong they didn’t do anything for her then. How come a black only becomes a hero after death. I think it’s ludicrous. It doesn’t make up for it.”
Gibson passed away in 2003 at the age of 76, a recluse, dying frail and penniless. In fairness, the USTA tried to get Gibson to attend the Open in 1997 when Venus Williams made history by reaching her first Open final in her debut. Gibson was said to be too embarrassed because of her failing health and appearance. The USTA also reached out in 2002 for her 75th birthday and was rebuffed.
“There were two times we looked to provide Althea with honors, but because of her health concerns, we couldn’t work out such a tribute,” USTA public relations vice president Chris Widmaier said. “Monday night certainly will be memorable.”
Gibson broke the color barrier in tennis, and it has been 10 years since Venus arrived on the scene with her braids and launched to the final. Both Williams sisters credit Gibson as being their inspiration and Richard Williams said he did not speak for his daughters.
Serena and Venus have come as close to dominating women’s tennis this millennium as anyone.
Serena (seeded eighth) and Venus (sixth) have combined to win 14 Grand Slams. CBS lead analyst Mary Carillo seemed off-key last week when she undervalued the Williams’ legacy, feeling they underachieved, saying she thought they’d, “change tennis history.” and “be more insistent about it.”
They still are changing tennis history - the two sisters who grew up playing on the cracked Compton, Calif., courts. Obviously, the Carillo remark didn’t sit well with Richard Williams.
“When she played tennis, she didn’t do nothing,” he said. “She talks a lot.
“It doesn’t mean a hill of beans. Their record speaks for itself. Serena and Venus have done more than anyone for women’s tennis than any tennis academy, tennis club, more than the USTA, more than anyone in the history of the sport. What do you expect for them to do? When they were in the finals, they said it was boring. Blacks can’t win even when they win.”
Without a formal tennis-teaching background, Richard Williams raised two stars who are as bright and well-rounded off the court as they are fighters on the court.
When Richard Williams took them as young girls to well-known tennis coach Richard Macci, he looked at Venus and said, “You have the next Michael Jordan.” Richard Williams corrected him, saying he had “the next two Michael Jordans.”
The knock on the Williams sisters is they’ve been oft-injured, sometimes lacked enthusiasm and have taken too many layoffs. But they’ve each one a Slam this year, Serena the Australian, Venus Wimbledon.
Seeded eighth, Serena hasn’t played since Wimbledon because of a left-thumb injury. No. 12 Venus has played one tournament since capturing her fourth Wimbledon. And yet they have as good a shot as any of reaching the final in their lopsidedly harsh side of the draw.
“I think there’s a lot of players who can win,” Serena Williams said. “Obviously I want it to be me. I’m thinking it’s going to be me.”
Five of the top six contenders - the Williams sisters, Justine Henin, Serbians Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic - are on one side of the draw, with Maria Sharapova on the other.