Venus Williams hungry for fifth Wimbledon title
By Mark Hodgkinson
Last Updated: 8:44am BST
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There are occasions when Venus sounds as if she's from Pluto. This was Venus earlier this year talking about improving her tennis: "I'm always trying to take it to another level, regardless. If I'm playing on Cloud Nine, I'm trying to get to Cloud 10 and, actually, Cloud 11." But put Venus Ebony Starr Williams on the Wimbledon grass, and the Californian with the kooky air suddenly assumes all the hard focus and killer instinct of a CIA operative.
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Focused: Venus Williams back to defend her Wimbledon titleWilliams is totally at home on the All England Club's greensward. "The traditions at Wimbledon are great, they're really awesome, but I'm so focused, especially when it's the final, that I don't worry about all the traditions. I just want to get my hands on that plate. There's a real mental intensity that I walk out there with," said Williams, 28, the greatest grass-court player of her generation and defending champion, who will be attempting to win the Venus Rosewater Dish for the fifth time. "It would be a dream to win Wimbledon for the fifth time. I want to win as many Wimbledon titles as possible, and I've been racking up a few, which has been amazing. You don't really believe that it's happening."
A sleek, long-limbed athlete who rakes the ball through Centre Court, Williams won her first Wimbledon in 2000, a second in 2001, a third in 2005 and then made it four last summer, when she was clumping the ball with enough pace to make Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli's wrist sting.
"I was trying to get the one at first, and that was exciting enough. But, of course, I'm trying to take it all. I look at the four titles differently, as I remember the different challenges. I feel as though I really understand how to play on grass, probably better than any player on tour right now, so that's a big advantage. I love being the defending champion. It's good to know when you are going to play, that it's going to be on that first Tuesday, but best of all is the feeling that you won the year before. But you just have to start with a clean state and go for it again." And "go for it" she will; that she has had an average year on the Sony Ericsson Tour so far can probably be consigned to the dustbin marked 'irrelevant'.
But Venus didn't find it so easy winning a 'Venus' last year. "Oh my gosh," she suddenly cried out, recalling with some horror the soggy fortnight when galoshes and Macs would have been more useful than trainers and whites.
"It rained the whole time, and I was sick for the last four rounds. When that tournament was over I was finally allowed to feel bad, and even to say it. I just felt tired - you know, when you get sick, your energy goes down and you can't play at 100 per cent. It was a mind and a matter thing, but it was an amazing turnaround."
The Williams troupe, led by little sister Serena, got her through. "I had some tough matches, which my family got me through from the box, just telling me that I could do it. Some of the time you need that. I had been playing well going into the tournament, and then in the first round I couldn't really keep a ball in. I was so disappointed. My family just keep saying, 'You can do it'. And that really helped."
In the last 12 months, Williams - a devout Jehovah's Witness - has tried to become more spiritual. "I'm always changing, always growing up and always learning. I'm always trying to understand more things about my spirituality, that's probably the main change.
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"I study, and when I'm at home, I go to meetings. I guess the worst thing about me is that I'm an over-achiever type, but I'm getting that under control, realising that there are only so many things that I can accomplish. And I'm late a lot. Not too late, but late enough to make it irritating. You know, 10 or 15 minutes, and I'm thinking to myself, 'I should really be there'. The best bit about me is that I keep positive, I love life and I have a lot of fun."
It has long been fashionable in tennis to write off the Williams sisters; to say that Serena has become distracted by her acting, or that Venus has spent too much time working on her fashion line, Eleven.
"I've been working on the fashion line since I graduated last year from school. I actually have education in fashion design, so I bring knowledge and ideas to it. At the same time, I have my personal style, which people have seen on court for the last few years. So it's classic, but it's fun at the same time." And she likes to prove wrong those detractors who suggest that her tennis takes a distant second to frocks, and that she isn't the force she once was.
"If people do want to say that, it's all good and well, but it doesn't cancel any self-belief that I have. And, essentially, I know that if I've been working hard and I'm healthy, then I feel as though I can go out there and win another Wimbledon title if I do the right things on court." Now that doesn't sound so obtuse. And few will be surprised if she does win again. Men are from Mars, and the women's champion at Wimbledon tends to be called Venus.
Greats of the modern era
Martina Navratilova (9 titles)
1990, 1987, 1986, 1985, 1984, 1983, 1982, 1979, 1978
Steffi Graf (7)
1996, 1995, 1993, 1992, 1991, 1989, 1988
Billie Jean King (6)
1975, 1973, 1972, 1968, 1967, 1966
Venus Williams (4)
2007, 2005, 2001, 2000
Chris Evert (3)
1981, 1976, 1974
Maria Bueno (3)
1964, 1960, 1959
Maureen Connolly (3)
1954, 1953, 1952
Louise Brough (3)
1950, 1949, 1948