If there had been no Williamses
By Roy S. Johnson / Roy S. Johnson Blog
What if Richard Williams had not had the vision? What if he'd been engulfed by the hopelessness surrounding him and his family in Compton, Calif., and had simply given in to it? What if he never had handed his daughters rackets?
Venus and Serena Williams no doubt would have been successful at whatever careers they chose. By now one of them might have been a doctor, an actress or a teacher. The other a designer, entrepreneur or a rising star in some corporation.
Instead, on Saturday, they will face each other for the eighth time in the final of a Grand Slam, including their fourth final at Wimbledon.
More than any of their peers, the Williams sisters have defined the current generation of women's tennis. Since joining the tour in the mid '90s, Venus and Serena have won 89 tournament titles (singles, doubles or mixed doubles). They've won 37 Grand Slam titles, 17 of them in singles.
They're among several women who have held the No. 1 ranking over the last decade, among the likes of Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport, Jelena Jankovic and currently Dinara Safina. There have been Jennifer Capriati, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Amelie Mauresmo.
Yet despite the kind of interest Sharapova and Co. generate, this forever will be defined as the Williams Era. They've outlasted and/or overcome every top challenger, and almost as often as not, a Williams is the last woman standing.
Still, women's tennis has long been conflicted about the Williams sisters, celebrating them one moment, then criticizing, whining or moaning about them the next.
Why don't they concentrate on tennis?
Why don't they play more tournaments?
Why don't they play more Fed Cup?
Why are they trying to be actresses?
Why are they doing their own reality show?
Why are they on the red carpet instead of the practice court?
Why doesn't Richard just sit down?!
But what if they had not come along? What if Richard had bought his girls golf clubs instead, or simply told them to go play basketball?
What if Hingis, a graceful champion, or Davenport, popular and steady at her peak, had been the top players of the era? What if either of them had been the face of this generation?
Ponder women's tennis in the last decade without the Williams sisters' powerful games, engaging personalities and outsized personas. Think of it without their celebrity, which attracted new fans and kept tennis in the cultural "chat rooms" throughout the year. Think of it without their hairstyles, outfits and jewelry, without their buzz
Think of it without the up-and-down-and-up dramas of their Big Sis vs. Little Sis encounters.
Think of women's tennis without Richard.
But tennis does have the Williams sisters -- and this weekend, so does Wimbledon.
Women's tennis owes more to Venus and Serena Williams than it ever will acknowledge -- at least not until they're gone.