"WAY TO GO - SERENA" "COME ON USA - LET'S GO!"
Offer of catwalk and music too good to resist for Williams sisters
From Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent in Dublin
SERENA WILLIAMS recently launched her acting career with a cameo on the American sitcom My Wife and Kids, so the Wimbledon champion is clearly preparing for the day she no longer hits furry yellow balls for a living. A stopover in the Irish capital for four days is an ingenious way of winding herself into form for the 12 months that could determine how long she stays in the sport.
The lure of tennis, music and beautiful clothes was irresistible for Serena, so she arrived last night (sister Venus does not get into town until tomorrow) to watch the Trilogy Fashion Show — probably forming a few ideas to extend her own line — before stepping out to compete in the Collins Cup, pitting Europe versus United States as the cornerstone of this trendsetting event.
It was thought the Williamses’ year had ended in the Home Depot Championships last month, when Venus withdrew during her semi-final — she was 5-0 down — against Kim Clijsters with a strained calf muscle before Serena was defeated in the final as the Belgian clinched the most important title of her career. Instead, they are flexing their muscles at the Royal Show Grounds here, getting a couple of matches beneath their belts before the tour resumes in earnest next month in Australia.
There, Serena attempts to win four majors in succession, a feat that, although the traditionalists insist does not represent a genuine grand slam — it should be all four in a calendar year — will feel very much like absolute dominance in Serena’s parlance. Then, should she continue to pull away from the field in 2003, will come the time when kicking the rest’s butts does not have the same feel to it. Thus, Serena is looking around already, most notably to her PR
The Collins Cup — named after Sean Collins, the former Ireland player, who has pulled a superstar package together — represents everything the Williams sisters hold most dear, their sporting brilliance, a world of the arts and self-aggrandisement. Serena will play two matches here, a doubles with big sister tomorrow against Daniela Hantuchova, of Slovakia, and Elena Bovina, of Russia, and a singles against Iva Majoli, the 1997 French Open champion from Croatia, on Saturday.
Welcomed by green-and-purple strobe lights, Serena was the first player approached by the tournament organisers and the first to accept. “We talked to six players at the US Open this year and Serena was the most positive right from the start,” Collins said. “When we were pulling the idea together, I thought back to my playing days and realised that one thing I lacked was a bit of fun. Our ethos was to integrate the three elements, tennis, fashion and music, and make it something to enjoy. I think that’s why we’ve persuaded so many players to come to Dublin.”
The Chernobyl Children’s Project will receive a large percentage of the profits from the competition, which will be played over three days, involving five singles and two doubles matches.
Clijsters, one player the European team would love to have had the chance to select, is spending her holidays in Australia. And, yesterday, it was revealed that the Belgian teenager is considering accepting Australian citizenship for tax purposes.
“Australia’s tax authorities recently asked me to talk about an advantageous fiscal arrangement,” Leo Clijsters, her father and manager, said last night. “Of course, linked to the possible advantages is naturalisation as an Australian citizen.” Clijsters is the girlfriend of Lleyton Hewitt, the men’s world No 1, and already spends a lot of time in his home country.
Mr Clijsters said that his daughter is considering the switch because of Belgium’s tax system, which has some of the highest rates in Europe. “In the past five years, we have paid an incredible amount of taxes (around 60 per cent of her £2 million in prize-money), so it is little wonder we are open to offers which cost us less.”
Clijsters enjoyed a sterling year, beginning by reaching the Australian Open semi-final and closing with the Home Depot title that saw her finish the season ranked No 4. She also won tournaments in Hamburg, Filderstadt and Luxembourg and briefly rose to third in the rankings.
TODAY: 7pm: L Davenport (US) v B Schett (Europe). 9pm: M Seles (US) v A Kournikova (Europe).
Tomorrow: 7pm: Seles and Davenport (US) v Schett and I Majoli (Europe). 9pm: V Williams and S Williams (US) v D Hantuchova and J Dokic (Europe).
Saturday: 10.30am: S Williams (US) v Majoli (Europe). 1pm: V Williams (US) v Dokic (Europe). 3.30pm: J Capriati (US) v Hantuchova (Europe).
TELEVISION: Live coverage, Sky Sports 1, 7pm and 9pm