Strong bond for Williams sister (C/P)
Strong bond, strong suit for Williams' sisters
By JANE MCMANUS
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
NEW YORK — Close as only sisters can be, Serena Williams revealed a fault line in their relationship earlier this year when she admitted she successfully tricked big sister Venus in the Wimbledon final.
Somehow, through a lifetime playing and practicing together, 20-year-old Serena spotted a weakness in her opponent and caught her unawares, stealing the title Venus had wanted most as a young girl growing up on glass-strewn courts of Compton, Calif.
And even now, Venus Williams isn't sure what was her undoing.
“I guess if I knew the trick, I could have won the match,” said Venus, who had won Wimbledon twice before. “I'll have to sneak in her room and listen to her while she's sleeping. See if she says anything.”
The admission is unusual given the united front the two almost always present. Venus says they do not talk about tennis, rankings, finals and titles together despite the fact that they will be on opposite sides of the draw at the U.S Open, which begins Monday at the U.S. National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow.
Venus, 22, is the two-time defending champion, but Serena is the top seed.
“I think that you're so much on display, especially in their situation, I think they want something they can keep for themselves,” said Billie Jean King, who has captained the sisters during Fed Cup matches.
Pick any of the great rivalries — John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles — at no point were these pairs in danger of going out to dinner after a match.
But they relished the competition. The Williamses — positioned to offer one of the greatest rivalries in tennis — clearly don't like playing one another. Their father, Richard, won't even watch them.
“I think any parent would hate to see their children go to war against each other,” he said.
This reluctance has made for tepid matches on the sport's biggest stages. Given the sisters' bond, can their matches ever generate the fire of the rivalries before them?
“If you want to see their true talent, it's in doubles because they try to hurt their opponent,” said Luke Jensen, who won the French Open doubles title with his brother Murphy in 1993. “That's the way it started, them against the world. I don't think they're ever going to have that "I'm going to kick your butt' mentality because all they had was each other.”
Venus was always the protective one, and it was evident in the way she embraced her little sister after beating her last year in the first U.S. Open prime-time final.
“I love you,” Venus said.
“For the first time in the tennis world you see a strong unit, you see a strong bond,” Richard said. “And I think a lot of people thought when we first came out that it's a joke. But it's not a joke ... so people probably would see Venus and Serena as one.”
Their opponents have admitted as much. Despite the differences in their games — Serena has a stronger second serve — Jelena Dokic said last week that she downgrades her expectations at a tournament where she faces either sister.
While some contend that their dominance is enough to scrape the sheen off the women's game, others say that the sisters are doing their job — it's the rest of the field that needs to step up.
“It's bad for tennis because you guys are laying down on the job,” Tennis Week publisher Eugene Scott said. “Shame on the other girls, not shame on Venus and Serena.”
The sisters' best competition, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis, have been injured for a large swath of the year while the Williamses have remained pretty healthy. Serena pulled out of a Montreal tournament on Aug. 13 citing acute knee tendinitis, but expects to be ready for the Open, where her path to the final is relatively simple.
Although Venus has a more difficult road as the No. 2 seed, the pair could easily meet in the second prime-time women's final. In the past, Serena's inability to play her best tennis during their matches had left some fans rooting against a Williams' final.
In their first seven career matches, Serena won only twice, and once was by default. This year, however, the younger sister has won all three meetings.
“I think they are still very connected, but I think they are both growing up,” King said. “They are becoming women and going their own way, and I think that's helped Serena actually psychologically be able to stand trying to beat Venus now.”
Not only has Serena beaten her older sister in two grand slam finals this season, she has out-earned her. Serena's share of the mortgage on the Florida home they share might have gone up after pulling in $2,254,317 to Venus' $1,541,381.
If there was no real rivalry to begin with, figures like that might make for the start of one, if the sting of losing the No. 1 ranking and slam titles didn't do it first.
“Venus did not like (losing at Wimbledon),” Jensen said. “It was nice that Serena won the French, but not Wimbledon, her title. Even if it's family.”
Even when Venus talks about her year, there is a certain wistful quality to her words.
“I feel I've done my personal best this year and I've had some nice highlights every now and then, especially against the No. 1,” Venus said. “Two finals is not bad, I tried, and I try not to be down on myself about that because at least I had two great years before and this is still a great year and possibly second best and that's not bad. I realize I can't have everything.”
King, for one, expects the intensity of their matches to grow from here. The Wimbledon final was much tighter, and King still can remember the steel in the elder sister when she first met them at a clinic in Long Beach. Although just 11 or so, Venus Williams had the makings of a pro even then.
“Venus already had attitude, which I liked,” King said. “I like it when kids think they can do something even if they don't feel it, even if they're acting as if.”