Women work on challenging Williams sisters
By Marlon W. Morgan
February 16, 2003
Lisa Raymond remembers what it was like when Venus and Serena Williams first stepped into the tennis scene.
They were two talented teenage African-American sisters coached by, to say the least, a very outspoken father.
In the mid-1990s, Richard Williams boasted about how his daughters would someday become the top two players on the WTA Tour.
Most people thought he was crazy. Critics said the sisters lacked the necessary fundamentals to reach the pinnacle of women's tennis. Yet, that didn't stop Williams from making his brash predictions.
''It's funny, you read all these articles and you remember listening to Richard talking, and you'd just shake your head,'' Raymond said. ''The scary thing is that everything he predicted and said has happened.''
For nearly two years now, the Williams sisters have dominated women's tennis. One of them has won six of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments. Both have been in the finals of the last four Grand Slams.
And as Richard Williams predicted, Serena is the world's top-ranked player and Venus is No. 2. They are significantly ahead of their challengers in the latest WTA Tour rankings, which begs the question: Can the challengers even compete?
Raymond, 29, who is in Memphis this week to defend her Cellular South Cup title at The Racquet Club, believes there are only a couple of players on tour right now capable of dethroning the sisters.
First, there is third-ranked Kim Clijsters, 19, of Belgium, who defeated both Venus, 22, and Serena, 21, in last year's season-ending WTA Tour Championships. Raymond also likes the chances of former No. 1 player Lindsay Davenport, 26, who is healthy again and currently ranked No. 8 after coming back from a knee injury that sidelined her most of last season.
''She's moving better than she's ever moved,'' said Raymond, currently ranked 21st. "I think that was something that you could always exploit with Lindsay. But the last couple of years, you haven't been able to do that.''
Alexandra Stevenson, 22, hopes she can make a move into the top 10 rankings this season. Stevenson, who lost in her first-ever finals appearance to Raymond in Memphis last year, is currently ranked No. 24. Her run in Memphis last year led to a season that ended with a career-high No. 18 ranking.
As a youngster in Los Angeles, Stevenson grew up playing tennis with the Williams sisters before they moved to Florida. While still good friends with them, Stevenson doesn't see the sisters, or anyone else for that matter, as being unbeatable.
''If you think somebody's unbeatable, you're in trouble,'' she said. ''You shouldn't be playing. I think I can beat anyone. I don't know what the other players think.''
But Stevenson does believe Serena and Venus should be recognized more for the way they have taken over women's tennis.
''I think they should give them their respect because it's pretty amazing that two sisters have played in four (Grand Slam) finals,'' she said. ''What they've achieved is historical and people don't give them the recognition and they don't treat them very nice.
''If it were two sisters that were white, I think it would be totally different. But that's the way the world is. Look at this: I got to the finals here (last year) and Anna's (Kournikova) all over the poster. You can't do anything about it except dye your hair blond. Then again, Serena did that, so you still can't do it.''
Raymond said what separates the elite from those trying to get there is confidence and believing you belong up there. Clearly, no one has more confidence right now than Serena, who has beaten her sister in the last four Grand Slam finals.
''I think we're all kind of resigned to the fact that they've raised the bar for women's tennis," Raymond said. "They're distancing themselves from the pack.
''I'd probably say it's best if there were more (challengers) because people get sick of seeing the same two people playing in the finals every week and in all of the Grand Slams. The more they are pushed, the better it is for everyone in women's tennis.''
The players participating in the Cellular South Cup, all ranked No. 17 and lower, hope they can be a part of the next group of challengers to the Williams sisters.
''I think it'll just take focus and to realize that all these girls that are in the top eight right now, I've beaten,'' Stevenson said. ''I haven't played Venus or Serena (recently). I played them like four years ago.
"But a lot of the girls in the top 20, I've had wins over, so there's no reason why I shouldn't be up there. That's what I look forward to. I have to work on having a steady climb.''
Btw - isn't the below sweet? I think it is wonderful that Justin got so much support from these ladies. It proves they try to keep up w/men's tennis - IMO.