Time for Venus to join the legends?
HUGH MacDONALD, Chief Sportswriter
There is an irritable grumble that hums beneath the grunts and groans that so mark the women's game today.
The on-court bellows of some players have provided a talking point in the lead-up to this year's championship. But the real issue is the standard of competition, not the level of noise.
The lack of in-depth quality in the women's field has led to an understandable whine that states that the championship has become a family affair and that the Williams sisters face rivals who can could not summon up a meaningful challenge if they all congregated on the other side of the net from the American siblings.
That harsh verdict is underlined by statistics. The new century has witnessed Venus Williams win five Wimbledon titles (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008) and Serena Williams take two (2002, 2003). The only other champions this century are Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova. Mauresmo's day has surely come and gone.
Sharapova is recovering from injury and believes Wimbledon has come too soon in her recovery process.
The rest make an unconvincing case for victory in SW19. Dinara Safina, world No.1, has proved brittle under pressure, Ana Ivanovic has regressed, and the Eastern European invasion always seem to prove stronger in numbers than in threat.
The Williams sisters, thus, have proved to be lightning rods for the criticism of the women's game. They should be held up as exemplars of it.
They can hardly be blamed for the failings of others. They should be commended for their prowess, their longevity and on their extraordinary journey to the top of women's tennis.
These, after all, are stars who came straight outta Compton. They have broken the barriers of race and class while bringing an awesome physicality to women's tennis. They can bludgeon opponents but they can also finesse them. But they stand accused of being bullies when they should be assessed as a phenomenon.
Venus, too, stands on the brink of becoming not just a regular, great champion but a Wimbledon legend.
The modern history of the women's game at the All- England Club has been dominated by Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Billie-Jean King. They won nine, seven and six singles titles respectively. Venus is one championship victory away from equalling King.
Such a triumph at Wimbledon 2009 would put the current champion in the pantheon. Venus is enthused by the prospect. "It's great to be a part of history," she said when asked about her chances of equalling Martina, Steffi or Billie-Jean. "But I already am."
The additional statement is revealing. Both Williams sisters have a sense of their worth. It is an admirable quality but one that seems to be misunderstood by some observers. Venus also said of Navratilova yesterday: "She had a great achievement.
I have my own great achievements."
This testifies to Williams's appreciation of her career.
But answers to other inquiries suggest that underappreciation by some parts of the media and wilful misunderstanding by others have conspired to make her defensive.
For example, asked why Wimbledon was her best grand slam event, the champion answered: "Why not?" There have also been mutterings about the Williams sisters coming to Wimbledon under-prepared and this has produced some clipped answers from both over the weekend.
But what marks the sisters out as contenders for the title is their unashamed belligerence on court.
"You're rewarded for playing aggressively," Venus said of Wimbledon and that's definitely how I play so I have a lot of rewards."
Sharapova had earlier been more precise. "She has a very big game, a very powerful and steady game. Her serve is a big weapon."
This shot is crucial in tennis, of course. And devastating in its effect for Venus. Tall and lean, Venus produces a serve that is simply too much for her opponents. Her speed across the ground and her technical ability provide her with chances to break serve. It is a simple combination that provides results.
Serena goes even further when talking about her sister.
"I think she has proven to be the best grass court player in our generation," she said. This statement may be obvious but it comes from the strongest pretender to Venus's throne.
The Williams sisters provided the final pairing last year and there is no reason to suggest that Wimbleodn 2009 will not witness an action replay. There may be some alarums along the way. Both have a propensity for finding trouble in early rounds.
Anything, too, can happen in a grand slam tournament.
But what tends to happen at Wimbledon in the 21st century is that the name Williams is inscribed on the salver.
Venus has just turned 29 and Serena will be 28 in September. Both are not contemplating retirement.
Venus spoke enthusiastically yesterday of carrying on until the London Olympics of 2012 at least.
This is not the best of news for the current crop of women contenders, though the imminent return of Kim Clijsters might, just might pose a threat to the family affair that dominates Wimbledon.
But both Williams are determined to rack up more victories no matter who plays against them. They have watched them come and go.
"We're still here and we are going nowhere," said Venus yesterday. "I don't see anything changing for a while."