I'll say! It does make one think.
Thursday, September 5
Richard Williams worries
about his daughter's safety
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Serena Williams was forever the care-free baby sister, covering baseline to baseline on the cracked courts of Compton, Calif., banging those buckets of balls bought at Paramount Sports in Hollywood on the deflated discount of 10 cents a pop. The crackle of gunfire sometimes served as the change-over music for Serena and Venus, the residuals of the against all odds Richard Williams Tennis Academy.
Richard Williams isn't always able to attend his daughters' tournaments.
All these years later, all this history harnessed, here was Richard --- the mastermind of today's most spectacular story, the Williams sisters --- chain smoking outside Arthur Ashe Stadium and hoping hard that a German stalker wouldn't do to his youngest daughter as an adult what a gangland upbringing couldn't as a kid: Turn her easy disposition and devastating game into a frightened, fearful existence.
"You have to wonder if this guy keeps running around, keeps disturbing her, if it's going to affect Serena in the future," Richard Williams said. "...Eventually, I worry it can."
Albrecht Stromeyer, the 34-year-old son of a German banker, has chased Serena Williams from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Wimbledon to the U.S. Open. So far, Stromeyer seems unwilling to stop. He could be spending the rest of this Grand Slam as a guest of the state of New York at Rikers Island, his bail of $3,000 useless under INS detainment. For now, the sharp eyes of the NYPD lets the Williamses play in peace on a march to perhaps a fourth family final out of the past five Grand Slam tournaments.
"For the NYPD to spot one guy with the crowd that they have here -- no matter how much you looked at (Stromeyer's) picture --- is just unreal," Richard said. "I don't think there's anything like the NYPD."
Trouble is, the NYPD won't be working the grounds every stop on tour for the Williams. This time, they got him. Next time, who knows? Security is at a fever pitch in New York, but this isn't true across the nation and globe and no one can be certain the lengths Stromeyer is willing to take his obsession. After starting to strip his clothes in that Arizona hotel lobby where Serena was staying, his state of mind is anyone's guess. She has a full-time security man walking step for step with her at the National Tennis Center, climbing out of the car with her and clinging uncomfortably close in the corridors of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Stromeyer is behind bars, but it sure looks like Serena is the one imprisoned.
Even so, Richard confessed: "Serena is too young to understand the nature of this issue. ... At 20 years old, Serena doesn't really understand the full danger of what could happen."
This was a big joke to a couple of clown hosts on a national radio show the other night, pitifully praising the stalker for his resourcefulness finding his way over and over into her midst. Maybe she's inviting it with the way she dresses, these embarrassments declared, cackling and cackling like Beavis and Butthead. They couldn't possibly have daughters, but understand: It shouldn't take just a father to appreciate the worst nightmares of Richard Williams. Of course, he is forever depicted as the blueprint for the crazy tennis father and it just isn't true. Yes, he can be a strange, strange character, but the proof of his parenting skills belongs to the well-rounded, intelligent daughters, Serena and Venus, holding tight to No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. Easing back on his eccentric -- even bizarre -- antics courtside has undoubtedly been a comfort for his daughters, who most always say and do the right thing under the most intense global glare.
Nevertheless, they owe him for never committing the far graver sins of fathers throughout the tour. Richard nurtured and protected his daughters as teen tennis sensations, when Stefano Capriati fed Jennifer into the tour machine at 14, almost assuring her eventual spiral into the abyss. Stefano was just the most famous in a long line of pushy fathers that did far more harm than good to childhoods and tennis careers. Remember, Richard was actually criticized for holding Venus and Serena to limited tour stops once they turned pro, tennis people insisting he was stifling the promise of these prodigies.
Whatever happens the rest of the way in the Open, a Williams won't hear the loudest cheers for a Williams until they're playing in the finals. There is a long list of possibilities about why the father sits in the stands on tour, listening to people root for his daughters to lose. America loves the underdog, Richard said, a sentiment that makes complete sense. Yes, people rooted for Pete Sampras to lose, too.
"But my problem is that when Venus and Serena are playing a lot of the foreigners, (American fans) still don't root for my girls," he said. "How can you not root for two American citizens? Why not?
"Of course, when they were ranked 300 in the world, nobody was pulling for them either."
Maybe it's a little of No. 1 and No. 2, a little of the old man, a little of race. Whatever the reasons, this is just one reality Richard can't control now. Nevertheless, he is watching his youngest daughter's back these days, understanding the German stalker will soon be set free and the NYPD won't stay with his family on tour. These days, he doesn't travel to every tournament, but now? Well, he isn't so sure what to do.
Outside of his middle daughter, he had been waiting for someone to disrupt his youngest girl's relentless run into history's arms. Not like this, though. Not like this nightmare. Once again, the greatest threat to his family lurks beyond the lines, beyond reason. This is the most frustrating part, too: Richard Williams was so sure he had left these fears behind on the cracked courts of Compton. The father was so damn sure.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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