Little sister has it all to do
By PAUL MALONE in Melbourne
UNLESS they can share like good sisters are supposed do, something just has to give.
Venus Williams says she expects to retire with more than 12 Grand Slam championships.
Sister Serena, her one major trophy lonely at home in Florida, gives the matter careful consideration when asked the same question in the shadows the fast-approaching Australian Open.
"I'd definitely hope to win several more than that. It's going to be hard with both me and Venus out there," said the 20-year-old American, fifth seed at Melbourne Park.
"I have to stay well and think positive; stay focussed.
"I've got a new attitude this year. I really know how to play."
It's going to be a rush of success if one of their father Richard's reported suggestions that both sisters would move onto more important things in life sooner rather than later and Serena might even be retired at 23.
"I'll be here," Serena Williams murmurs quietly.
So if the Williams era of domination really did start with their US Open final, then women's tennis can look forward to years and years of hitting the canvas with a thump.
The Australian Open crown, which Venus Williams memorably said last year she "deserved" because she had gone to so much trouble to fly from Florida, finally looks their's for the taking. They have finally taken seriously a tournament in which neither have made a final.
"I don't expect anything less of us," said Serena Williams, who had a second day of rest and treatment yesterday on an ankle sprain which led to her retirement from a semi-final of Sydney's adidas International on Friday night.
"I have to beat seven people, but I wouldn't be here if I didn't expect to win."
Serena acknowledged that world No1 Jennifer Capriati and the deposed queen Martina Hingis, who became Sydney champion on Saturday even thouhgh he is now three years without a major, are working hard.
"To be No4 in the world, she (Hingis) can't just be a slouch. She has an opoportunity to stay where she is," she said, either knowing or not knowing how dismissive it sounds.
Once called a two-headed monster by Hingis, the Williams sisters are still lumped together in almost every reference made by tour rivals, making them sound like equal partners. But Serena has some work to do to avoid becoming the Garfunkel to Venus's Simon.
Eight Grand Slams have passed since Serena Williams, fourth favourite for the Australian Open, became the first of the siblings to lift a Grand Slam trophy at the 1999 US Open.
Venus has won four of the past six major titles, including the two biggest, Wimbledon and the US Open, twice each.
Venus and Serena Williams have defined their individuality on court with their results as surely they have said all along they have been different off court.
"At first, we might seem the same and we have the same moral belief systems, but Serena is an extrovert," Venus said.
"I'm an introvert. I like to be alone. Serena thrives on being around people and going places."
Not according to Serena: "I don't go out. I don't like to do anything. I'm really lazy.
"If I'm at home, I'm usually practising or go to the gym. I'm trying to make sure I'm more fit."
Serena believes her 10-tournament schedule in 2001, famously brief in the time-honoured Williams method, allows her to perform at her best, even if the first event back from a break is inevitably rusty.
It made certain she finished the year in a flourish, winning the Canadian Open, losing to Venus in New York and triumphing in the year-end WTA Championships when Venus was absent with a wrist injury.
"It helps me. I don't get burnt out and I don't get overtired," she said.
"Sometimes you get too tight and just can't play."
The sisters who say they never argue – "we are bigger than that," Serena explains – did not get around to a family celebration dinner to mark their staggering achievement in New York.
"Even after I won my US Open, I was tired, went home and went to sleep. It's enough just having that title," Serena said.
"I really wanted to win. I almost did. It was pretty amazing, all the celebrities there."
The 20-year-old's voice becomes spiced with satisfaction as she speaks about an increase in interest in tennis among African-American children, even if she is unable, or not inclined, to name the names of likely young prospects.
"We are young and don't realise the impact we have had in tennis. One day we probably will," Serena said.
"There are kids who just want to get better. Alexandra (Stevenson, who beat Capriati in Sydney) is doing very well. Eventually there will be some.
"A lot of young kids who are always trying to go out and buy my dolls or Venus's dolls and coming up to us. I can't go anywhere -, here, America, anywhere – without getting bodyguards."
With their mother Oracene and trainer Kerrie Brooks supervising training in Australia, it was still father Richard, who has never visited Australia for tournaments involving his daughters, to whom Serena turned for advice last week.
Her first-up Australian match which was marred by numerous airmailed groundstrokes and a phone call to him in Florida set her straight.
The coaching arrangements remains perplexingly successful, although a title on Saturday week would the first achieved by the family when Richard Williams was absent from the Grand Slam city.
"He tells me things to work on. He said: 'Why don't you just relax? You know you're just coming back'," Serena said.
"He has known my game since I was four and I'm 21 now. He is amazing and real calm."
As well as the creeping paranoia of much of women's tennis over their power, the sisters share an enthusiasm for dress design which consigns them to college studies instead of the five or six extra tournaments a year the tour would have prefer them to play.
"I'm really working on my designs. I'm really exciting about trying to get my company off and running," said Serena, speaking with more animation than at any time of an interview with (paper title) at Sydney's adidas International last week.
"I'm looking at a couple of different persons from the past, like Jackie Kennedy, and getting some fresh ideas from their styles.
"But I'm definitely an innovator. I don't like to be the person who picks up the trend. I like to be the person who starts."
It was the same with her family's collection of Grand Slam silverware, before losses at Wimbledon in 2000 and the 2001 US Open final in muted, unsatsifying affairs fueled the theory that Venus possesses the natural moral advantage of an elder sibling.
In 2002, the world's biggest little sister needs to play follow the leader.
Oh dear my joke has gone way over everyone's heads.
Venus has said she hopes to retire with more than 12 Grand Slam titles. So I took the fact that she has 4 already, assumed she will win every one from now on, so she will have 13 at the 2004 Australian Open, so she will be able to retire with more than 12 Grand Slam titles!!!