Wade: Serena will force Venus to quit
By Kate Battersby, Evening Standard
6 May 2003
Crikey. Virginia Wade is not short of opinions. According to the 1977 Wimbledon champion, Venus Williams will not be around much longer; the Venus-Serena monopoly is "boring"; Anna Kournikova is "a lost cause"; and it is the fault of British players rather than the nation's tennis structure that the next Wade is nowhere in sight. All this before we even get started on the BBC.
Having met her, I cannot now recall why I imagined Wade would be dull and severe. She is 57, incredibly slight by comparison with today's amazon women players, and huge fun. She was 31 when she held aloft the Venus Rosewater Dish in SW19, an age by which she expects competitive tennis to be a whiskery memory for 22-year-old Venus.
"As long as Serena stays fit she will be hard to beat for years, but I don't think Venus will survive long," said Wade. "Venus has realised Serena is better than she is and she's losing heart. If the Williamses continue to monopolise the Grand Slam finals it isn't good news. It's already boring.
"But Venus is still very dedicated to Serena. I was at the Family Circle Cup in the US last month when Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Serena in the final, and apparently Venus rang their mother Oracene in the middle of the match on a mobile phone and said Oracene had to find a way of telling Serena how to win. Obviously, Venus was watching the match on television at home.
"The two sisters do live in this strange little orbit where they feed off each other. Sometimes they can be like puppies, so playful, and at others they don't interact with other people at all. I've had good moments with them and then at other times there's completely nothing, like I'm a stranger.
"Then again, when Martina Hingis was dominating so few years ago I thought that would go on forever. She was such a brilliant player with so many talents - strong mentally, great at getting herself out of problems - and of all the players she was the smartest and most interested in other things outside tennis. She didn't look down her nose at you.
"But then her game went down and became defensive. She wanted to ride horses and party, rather than put her nose to the grindstone and be single-minded.
"Then she embarrassed herself so badly with her behaviour in defeat at the French Open Final against Steffi Graf in 1999, and I thought from then on she never knew how to find a safe outlet for her frustration and anger. That's what I really think forced her out of the game."
Wade was speaking as an ambassador (there really are such things) for next month's International-Championships at Eastbournenow sponsored by motor insurance provider Hastings Direct. The grass court tournament has long been important in the warm-up to Wimbledon. This year's field includes Jennifer Capriati, 2002 champion Chanda Rubin, and the world No67 - Kournikova.
"No, Anna won't come back," said Wade. "She's a lost cause so far as getting her mind together is concerned. She hasn't had a decent coach and just doesn't want to listen. There's an arrogance and bravado about her which stands in her way. It's crazy she hasn't ever won a tournament. She has so much potential.
"I'm curious to see what's going to happen to her now anyway. So far, everything she has earned from being glamorous has been built on the back of her tennis. If she had got herself into the top five in the world, as she was definitely capable of, then she could have continued to go gangbusters on the marketing front. But now everybody has realised she just doesn't cut it on the tennis court, you wonder how long the rest can last."
The BBC will be screening Eastbourne, although at one stage - to Wade's fury - it planned to dump it.
"The BBC said the viewing figures weren't good enough but that was because it was putting it on at 11 and 12 at night," complained Wade. "Meanwhile, it shows all the men's tournament from Queen's day in and day out when frankly it's stupid showing all the early rounds. "Women's tennis is so relegated. The Grand Slam prize money should be equal. It's irrelevant that women don't play five sets. The price of a theatre ticket isn't dictated by how long the play is. Wimbledon is so stuck in a rut."
If any outfit in tennis really requires an ambassador to state its case, it must be the Lawn Tennis Association, always blamed for the dearth of young British players coming into the senior ranks. But Wade insists it is not the LTA's fault.
"The foundation is there," she said. "But I get very despondent listening to good young players. I'd like them to be more brazen. There just isn't a good attitude, and it becomes contagious. Mind you, the LTA could do some instant modernising by dropping the L in LTA. Just call it tennis. You have to get away from that boring, upper middle class element of grey people."
Let no one mistake Virginia Wade for a boring grey person, that's all.