By Gene Sapakoff (Contact)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
As the planets align, Venus is closer than anyone on earth to the brightest star in the solar system.
Women's tennis works similarly. Venus Ebony Starr Williams knows No. 1-ranked Serena Williams better than most other Third Rock residents.
Serena last week withdrew from the Family Circle Cup with a thigh injury, leaving Venus as the Williams family spokesperson for tennis, fashion, design, social responsibility, WTA computers, the weather and her own health.
"I feel good. I can't complain," said Williams, who begins her quest for a second Family Circle Cup title tonight. "I'm looking forward to starting the tournament. I'm just ready to play."
Just another day in an extraordinarily busy and productive life.
Venus Williams at wise, old 28 gets asked a lot more state of the tour questions than she did while winning four of her seven grand slam singles titles before turning 22.
Her responses are more powerful with deeds than words. Venus, as much off the court as on clay, grass or hard surfaces, is one of the most impressive women in America.
Tennis rankings, anyone?
Venus said Serena is the "real" No. 1, though her younger sister will drop to No. 2 behind Dinara Safina next week in the slightly controversial WTA evaluation system.
Pressed, Venus backed off a bit.
"Everybody has a different opinion on the ranking system," she said. "What's the best ranking system? I definitely can't do it because I don't do math anymore, so I'm not the best one to say what it should be."
Naturally, the role model inquiries come often.
Partly it's because the Williams sisters are the most prominent female African-American athletes in the world.
Partly because the new WTA Tour slogan goes like this: "Looking for a hero? Find yours at sonyericssonwtatour.com."
"My first responsibility is to represent myself and what I believe in and my family," Venus said. "And I have respect for myself, so that's really what I think about on a daily basis."
Probably because she is too busy juggling tennis, V Starr Interiors residential design, her own clothing line and extensive charity work.
She also wants to get into music production and choreography.
"I'd say I appreciate what she's done, particularly for women in general," American tour player Shenay Perry said Tuesday after her first-round upset of No. 15 seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. "Especially for me, being African-American. She's definitely someone to look up to."
ESPN pointed out at the Masters last week that Tiger Woods is the only African-American on the PGA, Nationwide and LPGA tours. But Woods and the Williams sisters can only do so much.
What Venus does best is transcend sports.
"It's empowering," Perry said, "not just to me but I'm sure to a lot of people. It's good that she has other ventures outside of tennis and things she's going to do when she's done with tennis."
Looking for a hero?
Don't go by what Venus Williams does on the court. But a kid could do a lot worse than admiring her smile and ambition away from tennis.