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View Full Version : Non-Williams fans, get used to the era of the Williams-Williams rivalry (article)


Tennis Fool
Jan 25th, 2003, 01:55 PM
As there was Chris v. Martina, Seles v. Graf, here is Serena v. Venus.
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Saturday, January 25
Enjoy the sibling show
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com


Venus and Serena Williams won a Grand Slam doubles match the other day, after which the women embraced, celebrated lightly, thanked their mother and began making preparations for the three-set Grand Slam singles match between them that Serena would capture not so long thereafter.

In other news: Lather, rinse repeat.

And above all, get used to it.

You hear about the rising state of women's tennis, the athletic and punishing players who will bring the next wave of high-level competition to the WTA Tour. It sounds perfectly wonderful. Then you turn on the television and it is all Williams all the time, just as it was during Saturday's Australian Open won by Serena, her fourth straight major title clinched with a victory over her sister Venus. Just to recap: Four ... straight ... Slams ... same two women.

And, anecdotally, at least, this is beginning to annoy the hell out of a selected segment of the tennis vox populi. If e-mails and phone calls are to be trusted (and, on so many levels, we know they really aren't), then the complaint that is registering the loudest lately centers on the notion that it's just too much Williams coming through the TV screen.

Frankly, that's a tough one, and I'll tell you why: It ain't gonna change. The two best women's tennis players in the world met in the finals of the Australian Open this weekend in Melbourne, and they're both named Williams, and, boy, does that not constitute breaking news.

The four consecutive Grand Slam finals to feature both Serena and Venus is a sibling record. And if the future does not explicity include both Williams sisters in every Slam final to come, it certainly suggests a scenario in which the two of them wind up playing one another just a whole truckload of times.

On a purely competitive level, this could be a thrilling ride. Assuming that we see, as we did in this final, the Williams sisters sincerely trying to take each other apart on the tennis court -- assuming, that is, that Venus and Serena both remain dedicated enough to the sport that they're only barely separated in terms of talent and court presence -- there can't be many more entertaining long-running rivalries. Serena's elation at winning that third set was real; Venus' disappointment was of a nature she couldn't hide. It was good (albeit not brilliant) tennis, but it was great theater.

But the complaints come rolling in all the same, and the view from here is that the daughters are mostly paying for the sins of the father. Richard Williams is so undeniably divisive a force that it's impossible to hear the derogatory comments about the Williams sisters (they're on TV too much, they've got too much attitude, they win too easily, they're not driven enough to capture the hearts of the truly ardent fan) without wondering whether they're not really meant to be directed at the dad.

On some levels, Tiger Woods passed through a similar stage at a fairly early point on his career's timeline. It was his father Earl, after all, who uttered the infamous bigger-than-Ghandi prediction those many years ago. It was Earl who made Woods out to be a demigod.

The public has since recoiled in horror countless times upon discovering -- and discovering again, and again -- that Tiger Woods is almost exclusively a golfer. Not a statesman, not a cause-carrier, but a golfer. It certainly wasn't Tiger who ever suggested otherwise, yet he paid for that image for a long time, and with a surprisingly hardy group of hold-outs among golf fans.

You'd hate to see the same thing dog the Williams sisters for too much of their careers. They've already been pummeled by accusations of tanking their matches with one another; they've already dealt with suggestions that Richard was orchestrating the winners of those matches.

Serena's now having won four straight Slam finals over Venus should have quieted that notion, and her willingness to go public with her desire for an undefeated season in 2003 seemed to raise her to a higher plateau of professional spirit altogether. And, for as long as she and Venus both stay focused on tennis (and no bets on how long that will be), she's got a truly legitimate foil in her own sister.

Forget the family connection: No two players of any kind have ever faced each other in four straight Slam finals in the 35-year history of Open-era tennis. Navratilova and Evert didn't manage it. Borg and McEnroe didn't. Graf and Seles didn't.

Venus and Serena did, and it's history that is going on here -- even if, so far, it is history of a one-sided flavor. It is history and family and rivalry and love and blood and money and sweat and glory and all that good stuff. The Williams sisters are running the world of women's tennis, and running into each other in the process. There can't be many levels on which someone could honestly transform that into a bad thing.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com