Williams Sisters in Their Own World
By GEORGE VECSEY
HE growing impression is that earthbound Serena Williams could be strutting her stuff in the spotlight long after celestial Venus Williams retires to a studio or a classroom or a cloister.
This sense was heightened during last night's all-Williams, all-the-time, keep-your-dial-tuned-right-here final of the United States Open, won by Serena, 6-4, 6-3.
Serena just seems to love it a lot more than Venus does, or maybe results determine attitude.
"I think Serena likes the attention," Venus Williams said afterward. "She is more of an outgoing person." And Venus added: "Everybody has a year. This is her year. Next year could be her year, too."
For the moment, the tennis world is lucky to have the two sisters, even though their obviously conflicted emotions kept them from tearing up the final last night. It is hard to be cruel and calculating, as tennis players must be, when somebody you love is across the net.
This was obvious during the opening ceremony — long delayed by CBS's commitment to college football — when Aretha Franklin finally got to sing "America."
Being a few feet from the Queen of Soul was just too good for the sisters to enjoy separately. Serena peeked around the umpire's chair, caught her older sister's eye, and trotted over, so they could enjoy Franklin together. Then they were supposed to go out and exploit each other's weaknesses, which is the essence of tennis.
It is tempting to over-think the relationship between these very close siblings. But it is clear that their love for each other produces dodgy tennis, not urgent tennis. Only a couple of times last night did the crowd respond with enthusiasm for long rallies.
In the end, Serena's mobility and power and perhaps even zest for the game won her a third straight Grand Slam championship in what has become the Williams Era.
You cannot stop the two of them, only delay them, the way the Open did last night by sticking the latest sisterly final behind a warm-up act between two old guys named Boris Becker and John McEnroe.
This was done by the servile folks at the United States Tennis Association to drag out the start of the women's match until the Miami-Florida football game on CBS finally ended.
Last year, the Open officials finally gave the women their own final, on Saturday night, instead of sticking them between the two men's semifinals on Saturday afternoon, as they had in the bad old days. So now the Open forces the sisters to wait around until the Hurricanes and the Gators are done.
How disrespectful, to hawk the extra added attraction on the message boards all week, a couple of former champions issuing Don King-like pronouncements about each wanting to whup the other one. The Open should put in a championship doubles match, if necessary, but the women's final should stand on its own, without waiting until 9:25 p.m. for the first serve.
"They could have done it afterward and let us get out of here early," said Oracene Williams, the mother of the two players.
Doesn't the U.S.T.A. know we are in the Williams generation? The two sisters have come from the distant outside to become the absolute center of women's tennis, so good that some fans root against them, as fans have always done.
After many fans cheered vociferously for Amélie Mauresmo and Lindsay Davenport during their two unsuccessful semifinals Friday, Oracene Williams said she saw race behind the copious rooting for the two white underdogs.
On the other hand, anybody in the stands on Friday could not escape the pride — overt, happy, noisy, demonstrative, wholesome, friendly — behind the support for the two African-American sisters. It works both ways.
Also, Chris Evert, who waved to the crowd before last night's match, could tell Venus and Serena how it felt to be their age, in the old joints at Forest Hills and Flushing Meadows, hearing the American crowd cheer for some European or South American player to upset the so-called Ice Queen.
And, someday, the sisters might ask Martina Navratilova some of the things she sensed when she was dominating women's tennis. It goes with the territory.
The crowd could not choose between the two sisters last night. People tended to sound protective, wanting nobody's feelings to be hurt. This is not the stuff of great finals. It can also boggle the minds of the two participants.
"People wear you to death and talk too much; I just want to get away from the hype," Venus said afterward, talking hopefully about a nice autumnal layoff but sounding a little more cosmic in her desire for peace.
Serena has now beaten her sister in three straight-set Slam finals. Up until last night, she was maintaining that she was still the little sister and the underdog. The truth is, Serena is a killer, secure in herself, who loves the flash and the competition. Venus is diffident, on and off the court.
It may have nothing to do with their relative skills, but rather their personalities, their humors, the signs under which they were born, whatever. Serena loves it; Venus merely tolerates it.
Any way you look at it, they are the two best female players in the world. They deserved an entire evening of championship tennis dedicated to them, without the ponderous intrusion of old guys and an endless college football game. This is the Williams Era, and it deserves to stand on its own.