From Philadelphia Daily News: Women’s Tennis No Match for Serena

by Bill Fleischman
fleischb@phillynews.com
Monday September 9,2002

NEW YORK - Following her quarterfinal victory in the U.S. Open that she ruled, Serena Williams was asked whether she paid much attention to men's tennis growing up with her sister, Venus.

Serena replied that Pete Sampras and Boris Becker were two of her favorites. Then Serena mentioned that she played against Andy Roddick at their tennis academy in Florida. She said she was 12 and Roddick, now the top young American male player, was about 10.

Who won? "Well, I don't want to brag, but now that you mention it..." Serena said, lowering her head and flashing that infectious smile.

Later, while Roddick didn't remember the scores, he admitted, "She probably would have beaten me back then."

Watching Serena now, in her body-clinging, black tennis outfit, it is not far-fetched to think she could beat some of the lower-level men in professional tennis. She moves like an NFL defensive back, hits the ball hard and serves and returns at a high level.

With her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Venus on Saturday night in the Open final, Serena has swept the year's last three Grand Slam tournaments.

Three consecutive Grand Slam tournament victories (all over Venus in the finals) prove that Serena, 20, is the best in the world. A sprained ankle prevented her from playing in the Australian Open, the year's first major.

Only seven women have won three or more majors in a calendar year. Martina Hingis (1997) was the last.

Venus, 22, is a close runner-up to Serena, but in their prime-time show Saturday night, Venus was plagued by double faults. She committed 10 double faults, the same number she had in her three-set semifinal victory over Amelie Mauresmo. Surely, a blister on the palm of her right hand was a factor in her inconsistent serving.

During the Venus-Mauresmo match, many in the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium were cheering for Mauresmo. Why?

Fans at the Open often root for the underdog. That's fine, but Venus, like Serena, is an American. She is a great player. Both sisters are intelligent, polite and humorous. American tennis fans, and sports fans in general, should embrace Sisters Smash.

Their mother, Oracene, strongly hinted after the Mauresmo match that racism is the reason fans encouraged the French woman. Serena and Venus never talk about racism publicly.

As terrific as the sisters are, if they continue to play in the finals of major tournaments, it could turn off fans. One reason is, it's not good for a sport when two players dominate. Another reason is, the sisters are so nice, it's difficult to root against either one. A good rivalry usually needs a good guy (or woman) and an opponent that fans dislike.

While they are dominating, Serena will enjoy the attention. During the Open, she wore a $29,000 diamond bracelet that was loaned to her by a Manhattan jeweler.

In the 3 years since Serena won her first major, the U.S. Open, she said she is "more mature and more relaxed. I just have more fun with what I do. I found that sometimes it's best to be sarcastic about life and laugh your way through it. It's a lot easier than being stressed about it or sad.

"Venus is a bit more quiet than I am in public. Maybe I talk too much. So I kind of bully her out of everything, talkingwise. She's a better thinker."

With the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Wednesday, having all-American women's and men's finals at the Open was a morale booster for many involved with the tournament.

"It's definitely very special for me and Venus and Pete [Sampras] and Andre [Agassi]," Serena said. "It's perfect, especially that it's happening here in New York almost a year from 9/11. It's almost a dream come true."

Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Mauresmo are the closest players to the sisters in ability. But none has shown any signs of dislodging Serena and Venus.

"[It's the] most amazing thing in sports almost," Davenport said after bowing to Serena in the semifinals. "In an individual sport, no less. They don't have teammates to help them along."

The bad news for other players is, the sisters will only get better.

"I think I played my best match tonight," Serena said of her victory in the finals, "and I think Venus played very well. Venus can play better [and] I think I can play better.”

"Ten years from now, I hopefully can look at tapes and films with my kids and say, 'Look, mom did a good job.' "

This year, Serena has done much better than good.

From MSNBC.com: Unlevel Playing Field

Why do the rules change when black athletes rise to the top?

Jill Nelson
MSNBC Contributor

Sept. 16—It’s been a little over a week since the final volley at the U.S. Open, and it’s still hard to put to rest all the nay-saying about Serena and Venus Williams, the two top female tennis players in the world. As far as I’m concerned, the criticism of the Williams sisters is just another example of a syndrome many African Americans are all too familiar with — that as soon as we learn the rules of the game, they change.

SO EVEN THOUGH tennis is a game of which intelligence is supposed to be a major component, now that the Williams girls stand on the mountaintop, their success has to do with their “natural athleticism.” It’s as if skill, hard work and incredible focus have nothing to do with their uncanny success.
Am I the only person who noticed that the fascination with sibling rivalry embedded in the Western psyche suddenly becomes passé when it comes to the Williams sisters? You’d think Serena and Venus slugging it out in the women’s singles final of the U.S. Open would fascinate, but instead the match was dismissed as lackluster. Some fans and reporters even had the nerve to whine that they wanted to see “something new,” as if two African American sisters dominating the game and fighting for top seed among themselves was something they’d seen before.

STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

And how about the uproar in response to the body-hugging black-cat bodysuit Serena wore, which prompted one writer to liken the outfit to those worn “by working girls of another sort.” Get over it.

I actually loved Serena’s outfit, but that’s neither here nor there, since she’s not a clothing designer, but the best women’s tennis player in the world. Hey, I don’t think that much of Aretha Franklin’s sartorial choices, but I keep my mouth shut about it because Aretha can sing better than just about anyone else on Earth. You won’t hear me commenting about Stephen Hawking’s suits, either. Great talents, whether in R&B, tennis or physics, can wear whatever they want. What matters is that they don’t disappoint in their chosen field.

And what about the phenomenon of fans rooting against Venus and for her French opponent in the semifinals? I guess when it comes to a black girl on a tennis court, all the post-Sept. 11 “we are one America, united” rhetoric is no longer operative, if it ever was. It adds insult to injury that Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, where the U.S. Open is held, is almost within shouting distance of where the Trade Center towers formerly stood.

BREAKING THE COLO BARRIER

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time these sorts of responses to black athletes have arisen in sports, professional or amateur. They usually crop up when formerly segregated sports are first integrated, then transformed and dominated by black athletes — from Major League Baseball and Jackie Robinson starting in 1947, to Jim Brown changing the position of running back after joining the NFL in the late 1950s, to the Williams sisters and women’s tennis in the late 1990s.

I’m convinced that what really rankles about the Williams sisters is what’s always bothered some people: that their poise, confidence and championship talent is not dependent on the validation of anyone outside themselves and their immediate family. From the time they were children, when their father Richard Williams appointed himself their tennis coach, the Williamses have marched to their own drummer and over the years proven the doubters wrong. They’re winners who wear what they want, say what they want, and need little from the outside.

A NEW PLAYING FIELD

The issue isn’t how the Williams sisters play, conduct themselves or wear; it’s the breaking down of another of the barriers of segregation, the end of white privilege and the ascendancy of those who were previously excluded. This is the new playing field, filled with athletes of color who have had to train and try harder and longer, just to get a foot in the door.

Of course these athletes have raised the bar in the game; they had to to transcend the hurdles placed in the way of their participation. Now it’s time for white athletes to step up their pace.

From Chicago Tribune:Final answer: All Williams

Venus, Serena relish rematch on Open stage

By Bonnie DeSimone
Tribune staff reporter
September 7, 2002

NEW YORK -- In business, there would be antitrust laws against what the Williams sisters are doing in Grand Slam events.

But there are no restrictions on their current monopoly, which delights both of them in every way except one--the notion that it could become tedious.

"I don't see why the question could be relevant--why it would be bad for tennis," two-time defending U.S. Open champion Venus Williams said after reaching her third straight Open final Friday with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over 10th-seed Amelie Mauresmo of France.

"It's just hard these days," she said. "When you win, there's a problem. When you lose, there's a problem. So what do you want me to do?"

Williams smiled as she said it, but there was an edge to her words. She will need a different kind of bite when she steps to the baseline against her younger sister Serena in the Saturday night final--the fourth time in the last five majors the two have faced one another.

Serena, the 1999 Open champion and this year's top seed, came back from a 5-2 deficit in the second set of her semifinal against No. 4 Lindsay Davenport to sweep into the final 6-3, 7-5.

"At this point, I think Venus and I are very even, very close to each other," Serena Williams said.

The sisters, who admitted they had a hard time psychologically when they began meeting in big matches, have played better quality tennis as their series has progressed.

"We're building toward that rivalry," Serena Williams said. "My attitude's the same when I'm playing Venus because she's my opponent. I'm sure her attitude's the same because I'm her opponent. This is for all the marbles. This is for the championship, the [tour] points, a Grand Slam. It's going to be a slugfest.”

"It's definitely something that's not serving as an impediment to my game, being around Venus. Family's first, and that's what matters most. We realize that our love goes deeper than the tennis game."

Venus Williams said her sister's confidence is at an "all-time high" but added she has no specific strategy to shake it.

"I think any time that I go out there and I'm worried about my opponent's game, I can't even play," she said. "I more or less have to focus on myself."

The sisters also occupy the top two places in the world rankings. Venus Williams would unseat Serena in the No. 1 spot if she wins.

"Most amazing thing in sports," Davenport said of the Williams' dominance. "Like I've said before--can you imagine Tiger Woods challenging a sibling to go head-to-head for all the majors? And in an individual sport, no less. They don't have teammates to help them along."

Venus holds a 5-4 edge over Serena in their matchups to date and beat her in straight sets to win the Open title last year, but Serena planted her flag at the French Open and Wimbledon this season.

Davenport, who put in a valiant effort against Serena Williams in only her fifth tournament back after serious knee surgery in January, is one of the few players who can match the sisters' power and range when she is healthy. She said she considers herself lucky to play during their era.

"It's an incredible time," Davenport said. "I played a little bit with [Martina] Navratilova, a lot with [Steffi] Graf, a lot with [Monica] Seles. It's a different ballgame now, much more athletic, much harder balls, much better placement on serves. It's only getting better."

Mauresmo pushed Venus Williams, who was bothered by a blister on her hand, to drop only her second set of the tournament.

The Frenchwoman said she feels that she, like Davenport, can pose a legitimate challenge for the sisters in future seasons.

"I just got to this level, it's very new for me," Mauresmo said. "She has played tons of matches like this. I just think I need to be in that position more often."

Saturday's schedule

Arthur Ashe Stadium

10 a.m.: Men's singles semifinals, Pete Sampras (17), U.S., vs. Sjeng Schalken (24), Netherlands

Not before 12:30: Men's singles semifinals, Lleyton Hewitt (1), Australia, vs. Andre Agassi (6), U.S.

6 p.m., exhibition: John McEnroe, U.S., vs. Boris Becker, Germany

Not before 7:30: Women's singles championship, Serena Williams (1), U.S., vs. Venus Williams (2), U.S.

Copyright © 2002, The Chicago Tribune

From Chicago Tribune: Serena Slams out 3rd of year

Breezes past Venus for title

By Bonnie DeSimone
Tribune staff reporter
September 8, 2002

NEW YORK -- Wearing the sleek catsuit that is a metaphor for her panther-like grace and power, 20-year-old Serena Williams won her third straight Grand Slam event final at the U.S. Open on Saturday night in the increasingly eye-popping test of psyches with her older sister Venus.

The younger sister's 6-4, 6-3 victory before a record Arthur Ashe Stadium night crowd of 23,164 meant she retained her No. 1 world ranking in a season that can only be described as overwhelmingly dominant.

Her victories over Venus at the French Open, at Wimbledon and in Flushing Meadows all came in straight sets, and she did not drop a set in New York in her sprint to the title.

"I'm just happy to win here again," a beaming Serena said of her second Open win, which came three years after the first. "I almost nearly forgot how it felt. The difference is I'm a bit more mature and I'm more relaxed."

Serena, the more outgoing of the sisters, patiently answered the now-familiar questions about whether the seesawing competitive edge affects the siblings' relationship.

"Venus kind of dominated me for a long time and we always stayed close," she said. "I love to win; I love the battle. But I also like to see Venus very happy all the time."

Venus Williams, 21, was on the defensive from the first point of the match--a double fault that was a harbinger. She committed 33 unforced errors to Serena's 19 and said she felt her play start to slide after her fourth-round three-set match against Chanda Rubin.

"After that I posed and pretended that I was doing well, but I don't think I was doing as well as I would have liked," she said.

"I played here last year and didn't drop a set, either, so I know what it's like to be playing so well, or better than anyone else. . . . The last couple of years weren't [Serena's] best, so I think she was really rejuvenated and motivated to come out here and to play well this year. She had a lot to play for."

Serving at 4-4 in the first set, Venus double-faulted to give Serena the advantage, then smacked a forehand volley wide to lose the game. Serena closed out the set on an ace in the next game.

Venus staved off two match points, one with a second-serve ace on the "T" and another with a sharply angled volley. But she then gave up her 10th double fault of the match and swatted a forehand into the net.

Serena bent over at the waist for a moment, then jogged to the net where the sisters exchanged a quick hug. Their mother, Oracene, looked on somberly at first but later applauded the trophy presentation.

The sisters now have four Grand Slam singles titles apiece and have faced one another in four of the last five finals. Serena missed this year's Australian Open with an ankle injury. The sisters both looked teary-eyed as they walked onto the court following a musical performance. Serena Williams slipped over to whisper something to her sister before they started warming up, but declined to reveal what she said.

Venus Williams fell short in her bid to become the first woman since Chris Evert to win three straight Opens.

Copyright © 2002, The Chicago Tribune

From Richmond Times-Dispatch: Sisters Are Springboard

BY JOHN PACKETT
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
September 3,2002

Pow! Venus Williams leans into her powerful serve and delivers an ace down the center line.

Crack! Serena Williams grunts and whips a cross-court winner out of reach of her opponent.

Game, set and another match to the Williams siblings.

They have risen from the mean streets and cracked courts of Compton, Calif., to rule the women's game. Serena, 20, winner of the last two Grand Slam tournaments in Paris and London, is No. 1 in the world, followed closely by Venus, 22, at No. 2.

With the U.S. Open under way in New York, they are seeded to meet in the final for the third straight major tournament.

But is their domination of the women's circuit having any effect on attracting new black players to the game?

A sampling of local and national teachers and officials seems to indicate more blacks are playing tennis now, but there's still a long way to go before there are as many options for inner-city youngsters as their white counterparts in the suburbs.

"No doubt, especially on the female side," said former Richmonder Rodney Harmon, director of men's tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association's High Performance program. "I think it's helped on the men's side, too, but mostly among the women.”

"A lot of the young ladies, they see how well Venus and Serena are doing. Not only that, but how intelligent they are and how well-rounded their lives are. Because of that, they give tennis another look, where they might not normally have given it another thought.

"When I look at the numbers of children, I see an increase in the number of children of color who are playing tennis."

According to a survey by the USTA in their grass-roots program, USA Tennis 1-2-3, the percentage of blacks participating increased from 20.1 in 2000 to 23.2 in 2001. The percentage of Hispanics went up from 9.1 percent to 10.1.

At the same time, the percentage of whites in the program declined from 60.7 percent to 56.8.

Are there any up-and-coming black players in the junior pipeline at the moment?

Harmon, who reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open 20 years ago, pointed out that there are blacks ranked at the top of two age groups - Donald Young of Chicago was No. 1 in the boys 12 last year, while Marcus Fugate of Fairport, N.Y., is No. 1 in the boys 14 this year.

In addition, James Blake, winner of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington last month, has risen to No. 25 in the world. On the women's side, Chanda Rubin has been around for a while, but she's recently increased her ranking to No. 15.

Closer to home, Rodney's brother, Marell, is the coordinator of tennis programs for the Richmond Department of Recreation and Parks.

"All I can tell you is this," M. Harmon said. "At my park [Battery Park], when the Williams sisters are in the finals or playing each other, a lot of young girls, they call, they want to play. Mostly, everybody wants to take lessons.”

"But what happens is, they stay focused for maybe two, three weeks after that and then, because we don't have a fall or winter program in the inner city, they lose interest. But they really get excited whenever the Williams sisters are on TV."

What M. Harmon would prefer is for the USTA, Richmond Tennis Association and the city to put a bubble over some of the courts at Byrd Park, so everyone would have a chance to practice and play during the winter.

"We have a lot of good kids at the end of the summer, but you have to be able to keep them interested," M. Harmon said.

One of the young girls who enjoys playing the game is 10-year-old Charise Nichols, who was having fun using her racket at Byrd Park last week.

"Tennis is my favorite sport because you do a lot of running," she said. "I like Venus. She thinks before she hits the ball. Serena . . . sometimes she hits it over the net, and sometimes she doesn't. She has enough power to serve it over the [stands]."

Zina Garrison, an African-American who was once ranked in the world's top 10, believes the Williams sisters are having an impact.

"I think the biggest awareness is when the kids come out and if you ask them about tennis, the first thing they say is, 'I want to play like Venus and Serena,'" said Garrison, an assistant coach for the U.S. Fed Cup team. "Anytime you have players ranked one and two in the world, that's going to happen.”

"Another big thing is the percentage of people of African-American culture that watches tennis [on TV] has gone up 40 percent.”

"But the greatest thing about the game right now is there are more inner-city junior tennis programs across the country that are giving African-Americans, as well as other cultures, the capability to be able to play the game and learn it at a pretty reasonable price."

In February, the USTA initiated the First Serve program to encourage blacks and other minorities to take up the sport. Begun in Florida and now in other cities, First Serve is an after-school program with access to adult mentors, tutors and computers, as well as tennis.

R. Harmon says the Williams sisters are giving some of their time and money to help others like themselves.

"They train at our site in Key Biscayne, Fla., so I see them all the time," he said. "They are so giving of their time and they really try to help out. They have their own program. I think it's the Venus and Serena Tennis Academy in Los Angeles that they sponsor.”

"They also help sponsor a program in West Palm Beach [Fla.]. They really do a lot to try to provide opportunities for children of color."

Paul Manning, president of Peak Performance Academy and the U-Turn program in Richmond, sounds a note of caution about the Williamses' effect.

"Certainly, their performance and success has caught the attention of everyone, including African-Americans," he said. "There are many more who sit down to watch a tennis match, but whether they are actually playing, I haven't seen any dramatic increase. No big surge to request lessons."

Manning, who has geared his low-cost program toward inner-city kids in a variety of sports for several years, says there are several reasons for that.

"In a lot of typical African-American homes, they equate athletic opportunities to basketball, football," he said. "They don't live near a club where there's a tennis pro who can teach them lessons. Tennis is such a technical sport. You just can't pick up a racket and become a good player on your own."

As R. Harmon pointed out, it can cost a family between $20,000-25,000 a year for a top-level junior to train and travel to tournaments.

"Richard Williams had a vision for his daughters," Manning said. "If the parent or guardian doesn't have a vision, I don't care how talented that kid is . . . they have to be able to make it to practice. Their parents have to be committed. If they can't invest a little time, it's no use to even start."

Maybe if the Williams sisters keep winning for a while, their success eventually will translate into more blacks in the game. Only time will tell.

Contact John Packett at (804) 649-6313 or jpackett@timesdispatch.com

From Los Angeles Times:But Does It Fit On The Court?

by Beverly Beyette
Times Staff Writer
Wednesday August 28,2002
page E1

There has not, perhaps, been such a fashion flap in tennis since “Gorgeous Gussie” Moran appeared at Wimbledon 53 years ago sporting lace panties under her white tennis dress.

Tongues were wagging Monday as Serena Williams took to the court for her first round match of the U.S. Open wearing a leave-little-to-the-imagination black Lycra number that resembled a mini-wetsuit, explaining that “it makes me run faster and it’s really sexy.”

African American author Karen Grigsby Bates was among those who thought she’d gone too far. “She’s a great athlete. She has a great body. But this is disco wear on the tennis court. I don’t know what the U.S. Open was thinking” to permit someone to play in such an outfit.

She adds, “Just because it’s permissible doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. Serena is sending two completely opposite messages, with the tiara and the pearl bracelet, on one hand, and this rather astonishing display of her physical assets on the other.

“I’m not one of those people who think that women only have to play tennis in dresses with little ruffled panties to match…but this is over the edge.”

While rising to the top of the rankings, 20-year-old Serena and older sister Venus have never been fashion conformists. First, it was the hair beads---since discarded---that fell off during matches, clattering around the courts and annoying their opponents.

Serena has designed a line of clothing for Puma and has dyed her hair blond in an effort, she explained, to keep from being recognized.

Now, she’s brought urban in-your-face fashion to a sport that traditionally belonged not to two African American women reared in Compton, but to the elite country-club set.

Is there some sort of deep sociological significance in this?

“I think they’ve gotten to the point where they have no more worlds to conquer, so there’s a bit more of that in-your-face,” says psychologist Joyce Brothers.

Brothers points to studies showing that women who wear very revealing clothing “have less self-esteem than those who don’t show off. [Serena and Venus] are both really sturdy women, not the kind of women that men would fantasize about taking to bed. They would fantasize maybe about beating them on the tennis courts.”

She adds, “I think what they’re trying to do now is to shock people into realizing that you can be built for athletics and still be sexy. I think that they’re reassuring themselves as well, sort of thumbing their noses at the crowd, saying, ‘Look, I may be at the top of my game, but I’m a woman as well.’ “

From a fashion perspective, the cat suit was hit. “Her fashion sense and her total brilliance on the tennis court is emerging into something very unique,” says Andre Leon Talley, editor-at-large at Vogue. “I loved the cat suit. I love her hair. It’s all part of her being a champion. She’ll become a role model for young girls, aspiring for fashion.”

Like it or not, all that matters is that “she was dressed and she was able to perform,” says Helen Grieco, executive director of California National Organization for Women, pointing out that NOW worked very hard to see that, through Title IX, female athletes had the opportunity to succeed.

Is there a hint of racism in the response to fashion, Serena-style? “There might be,” says Grieco, as well as sexism. She points out that John McEnroe could stamp around the court, swearing at umpires, and people tended to dismiss his errant behavior as a “boys will be boys” thing.

As for fashion rebels, when Andre Agassi burst on the tennis scene in the late ‘80s, unshaven, with pierced ears and long hair, wearing neon-colored clothing and denim---in an era when crisp white shorts were all but mandatory---fans couldn’t get enough of him (especially the female fans).

But when the Williams sisters brought their power game to tennis, quickly rising to the top of the ranks, some other female players—notably former No. 1 Martina Hingis—didn’t hesitate to suggest that they were landing multimillion dollar clothing endorsements because they were African American.

Certainly their flashy styles didn’t hurt. But on the court, tennis is Serena’s job, Bates points out, “and she doesn’t want to dress in a way that detracts from her work. Certainly is she worked at a bank or a law office or a brokerage firm, if her skirt was too short or her blouse too low, they would tell her to change her clothes.”

Her advice to Serena: “I want people to think of you as dazzling, attractive and fine and graceful, but they are getting distracted by what you wear.”

Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, says that “all of the precepts of the old establishment, with very few exceptions, have encompassed the increasing diversity of the American population. If most Americans embrace the sense of American meritocracy it’s going to mean some expressions, ideological as well as aesthetic, that are going to be alarming to us. I suppose part of it is this attitude that if you participate in certain things, you play by the rules. I’m not an advocate of the eroding of every standard, but I’m surprised that people are surprised.”

He makes an analogy between Serena challenging traditional tennis fashion and people wearing shorts on airplanes. “It used to be the precinct of the privileged to travel. It’s not anymore.”

Marcy DeVeaux, who teaches “Women and the Media” at Cal State Northridge, says, “The Williams sisters have been my example of strong, vibrant, attractive women who are not sexualized. They’re healthy. They look like women their age should look. They’re not emaciated.”

She adds, “I think Serena can play tennis in a tennis skirt and probably do quite well. I don’t know that a skin-tight black Lycra suit will help her game really, so why do it?”

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Staff writer Gayle Pollard-Terry contributed to this report.