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Jun 26th, 2002, 04:34 PM
Williams Sisters Find Independence Works

IMBLEDON, England, June 25 Normally, the Williams sisters arrive at the All England Club trailed by a commotion as loud as tin cans behind a newlywed's car: the outrageous Richard Williams.

In the past, Richard, the father of Venus and Serena, has created a stir on the pristine grounds with his colorful comments, family tales and controversial signs. After Venus won her first Wimbledon title against Lindsay Davenport two years ago, her father flashed a sign "It's Venus's party, and no one is invited" then hopped on the NBC booth to dance.

This year, the air is calm around Venus and Serena at Wimbledon, with their more serene mother, Oracene, by their side. It's no secret that Oracene and Richard Williams are estranged, but the decision over which parent travels to tournaments is not a subject of family tension.

"If I wanted to work with my mom or my dad in particular, I would say what I'd like," said the top-seeded Venus, who eased past Jane O'Donoghue, 6-1, 6-1, today. "They wouldn't be bitter or resentful at all. I think they've gotten past those things after high school."

Oracene and Richard still coach their daughters, but Venus and Serena are increasingly self-sufficient. More often, they self-coach during practice. With each beyond her 21st birthday, Venus and Serena have begun asserting their independence.

"We're both trying to be mature with our games and not have to think, `If my mom and dad aren't there, we aren't going to do well,' " Venus said. "I think we're both trying to get away from that mentally. We don't want any crutches for the rest of our life, being 28 years old, saying: `Mom, please come to the tournament. I can't deal with it without you.' "

Most people in tennis see Oracene Williams's calm presence as a good thing for Venus, the No. 1 player in the world, and Serena, who is No. 2. The fewer distractions, the better. In the past, Richard Williams has been criticized for turning the attention from his daughters and on himself.

"There's always going to be opinions," Venus said, defending her father. "I think more than anything, my dad is there when I need him, when I need to talk about anything, or if I need help with my game or anything at all, if I need to borrow his car. Until you can actually get to know my dad, then I think it's best not to make an opinion."