Posted on Sun, Jul. 21, 2002
Williams sisters are co-stars with different shows
By Tim Kawakami
Mercury News Staff Columnist
Separate and unequaled, Venus and Serena Williams would still be incredible stories, rising from the public courts of Compton to win Grand Slam titles and reformulate the way women's tennis is watched and played.
But together and without peer -- other than each other -- they are almost too dominant, too easily viewed as a merged force of nature, VenusandSerena, ruling the world.
VenusandSerena, Nos. 1 and 2 in the world and hitting the ball harder than ever imagined. VenusandSerena, what an epic, unparalleled tale of two sisters.
With Venus, ranked No. 2 after Serena's recent surge, coming to Stanford this week for the Bank of the West Classic, it's time to realize that there are two tales that sometimes conjoin, often don't, and produce tennis at a level few can match.
Venus is 15 months older, three inches taller (at 6-foot-1), lankier, calmer on the court and off, and more likely to gobble up books about Russian history than stew over a missed backhand on break point.
Serena has better footwork and technique, is much more emotional, is more comfortable in the limelight, and, until she broke through at the French Open and Wimbledon this summer, had been more of an enigma.
``A lot of people look at them as one entity, `The Williams Sisters,' '' said ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, Venus' mentor in the tour's Player Development Program. ``But I can see them developing their own separate identities -- their personalities on the court are clearly different, even their strokes, their builds. . . . I've seen a lot of other sisters that look and act a lot more alike than these two.''
VENUS IS OLDER, which explains much about her relationship with Serena and with tennis itself, Shriver said.
Venus, who has won four majors, was the one with the responsibility and pressure to make it huge, and, not shockingly, she's the one who eagerly talks about life away from tennis.
Serena, who now has three majors, was able to watch Venus handle the hubbub of instant fame and the strange byplay between the media and the sisters' shoot-from-the-lip father, Richard Williams.
So as they move into full adulthood (Venus is 22, Serena turns 21 in September), it's only natural that their interests are varying.
If you've been paying attention, Serena is the one who showed up at the ESPYs, chatted up Lennox Lewis at Wimbledon and Jay-Z at the U.S. Open and was rumored to have dated Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington and Cleveland Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
Venus has kept a low profile, quietly dating the same man for several years.
``Serena runs the scale of emotions more -- she gets upset, gets more, I think, joyous,'' Shriver said. ``And Serena definitely likes the glitz and glamour of being a star more. . . .
``Venus tends to be more protective, sort of like that older-sister protective mode. . . . She had all the attention early, so perhaps she grew more cautious; and then the second sister can come along and it's easier, it's more fun.''
POTENTIAL CHALLENGERS? Shriver says don't forget Jennifer Capriati, who won the Australian Open this year, and rising stars Kim Clijsters (who won at Stanford last year and is seeded fourth this year), Justine Henin (seeded No. 6 at Stanford this week) and Amelie Mauresmo.
Also, injuries sidelined former No. 1s Lindsay Davenport (making her comeback from knee surgery this week) and Martina Hingis for much of the last year.
Others point to 19-year-old Slovak Daniela Hantuchova, whose looks have been compared to Anna Kournikova but who already has a tour victory.
But for now, the Williams' best and only rivals are each other, which has so far produced several terrible finals, a couple of controversial withdrawals, and finally a decent match a few weeks ago at Wimbledon.
``I can't imagine how difficult it is for those two to play each other,'' said Davenport. ``I have a hard time trying to play my friends, and I'm not nearly as close to my friends as they are as sisters.
``And when you have two power-type of players playing each other, you are not going to have a lot of rallies. They face that dilemma, too.''
NOW THERE'S AN INTRIGUING new dynamic: Serena, in the span of those few weeks in Europe, has vaulted past Venus -- and everybody else.
Not since Steffi Graf in 1996 had a player won the French and Wimbledon back-to-back, and Serena, who won the U.S. Open in 1999, has to be the favorite at her favorite tournament in a few weeks.
Could Serena be poised to make a Graf-like run through the majors? Barring injury, is Venus the only player in the world capable of preventing it?
There's the most certain way to break up the lazy VenusandSerena mindset: Transform it into Venus vs. Serena, the same way it was Chris vs. Martina or McEnroe vs. Borg.
Two giants, jousting for titles and mingling on the great stage, who, this time, happen to be sisters and best friends.