Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 22, 2002 pK0481
Venus and Serena Williams shouldn't be viewed as a merged force of nature. (Knight Ridder Newspapers) Tim Kawakami.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2002 Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
SAN JOSE, Calif. _ Separate and unequaled, Venus and Serena Williams would still be incredible stories, rising from the public courts of Compton, Calif., to win Grand Slam titles and reformulate the way women's tennis is watched and played.
But together and without peer _ other than each other _ they are almost too dominant, too easily viewed as a merged force of nature, VenusandSerena, ruling the world.
VenusandSerena, Nos.1 and 2 in the world and hitting the ball harder than ever imagined. VenusandSerena, what an epic, unparalleled tale of two sisters.
With Venus, ranked No.2 after Serena's recent surge, going to Stanford for the Bank of the West Classic, it's time to realize that there are two tales that sometimes conjoin, often don't, and produce tennis at a level few can match.
Venus is 15 months older, three inches taller (at 6-1), lankier, calmer on the court and off, and more likely to gobble up books about Russian history than stew over a missed backhand on break point.
Serena has better footwork and technique, is much more emotional, is more comfortable in the limelight, and, until she broke through at the French Open and Wimbledon this summer, had been more of an enigma.
"A lot of people look at them as one entity, `The Williams Sisters,'" said ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, Venus' mentor in the tour's Player Development Program. "But I can see them developing their own separate identities _ their personalities on the court are clearly different, even their strokes, their builds. ... I've seen a lot of other sisters that look and act a lot more alike than these two."
Venus is older, which explains much about her relationship with Serena and with tennis itself, Shriver said.
Venus, who has won four majors, was the one with the responsibility and pressure to make it huge, and, not shockingly, she's the one who eagerly talks about life away from tennis.
Serena, who now has three majors, was able to watch Venus handle the hubbub of instant fame and the strange byplay between the media and the sisters' shoot-from-the-lip father, Richard Williams.
So as they move into full adulthood (Venus is 22, Serena turns 21 in September), it's only natural that their interests are varying.
If you've been paying attention, Serena is the one who showed up at the ESPYs, chatted up Lennox Lewis at Wimbledon and Jay-Z at the U.S. Open and was rumored to have dated Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington and Cleveland Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
Venus has kept a low profile, quietly dating the same man for several years.
"Serena runs the scale of emotions more _ she gets upset, gets more, I think, joyous," Shriver said. "And Serena definitely likes the glitz and glamour of being a star more. ...
"Venus tends to be more protective, sort of like that older-sister protective mode. ... She had all the attention early, so perhaps she grew more cautious; and then the second sister can come along and it's easier, it's more fun."
Potential challengers? Shriver says don't forget Jennifer Capriati, who won the Australian Open this year, and rising stars Kim Clijsters (who won at Stanford last year and is seeded fourth this year), Justine Henin (seeded No.6 at Stanford recently) and Amelie Mauresmo.
Also, injuries sidelined former No.1s Lindsay Davenport (making her comeback from knee surgery this week) and Martina Hingis for much of the last year.
Others point to 19-year-old Slovak Daniela Hantuchova, whose looks have been compared to Anna Kournikova but who already has a tour victory.
But for now, the Williams' best and only rivals are each other, which has so far produced several terrible finals, a couple of controversial withdrawals, and finally a decent match a few weeks ago at Wimbledon.
"I can't imagine how difficult it is for those two to play each other," said Davenport. "I have a hard time trying to play my friends, and I'm not nearly as close to my friends as they are as sisters.
"And when you have two power-type of players playing each other, you are not going to have a lot of rallies. They face that dilemma, too."
Now there's an intriguing new dynamic: Serena, in the span of those few weeks in Europe, has vaulted past Venus _ and everybody else.
Not since Steffi Graf in 1996 had a player won the French and Wimbledon back-to-back, and Serena, who won the U.S. Open in 1999, has to be the favorite at her favorite tournament in a few weeks.
Could Serena be poised to make a Graf-like run through the majors? Barring injury, is Venus the only player in the world capable of preventing it?
There's the most certain way to break up the lazy VenusandSerena mindset: Transform it into Venus vs. Serena, the same way it was Chris vs. Martina or McEnroe vs. Borg.
Two giants, jousting for titles and mingling on the great stage, who, this time, happen to be sisters and best friends.
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From CNN/SI.com: TENNIS MAILBAG: Sports Illustrated’s John Wertheim
What motivates the Williams sisters?
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will answer your tennis questions every Monday
My friends will roast me for this, but I think your previous comment about how well-rounded the Williams sisters have become is right on target. They are every bit as gracious as any other player out there and always strive to do more. My question is this: If other players continue to make snide comments about the sisters, and other people (including some commentators) publicly opine that their matches will become boring, what is their incentive to stay in the sport at all? I know if I worked in a place where I felt everybody hated me, I would probably leave.
—Jon Berg, Phoenix
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." Well, let me tell you about the Williams sisters. They are different from you and me. You and I might care how we are perceived by our peers. The Williams sisters never have and it has served them well. They don't waste time with petty locker-room politics and they are never conflicted when they wax an opponent -- each other notwithstanding.
What keeps them in tennis? Good question. John McEnroe raised an interesting point in his book. (See below.) To paraphrase, he senses that neither Venus nor Serena feels particularly passionate about the sport. They're simply good at it. So good, in fact, that they're almost morally obligated to play and not squander their gifts. I think that goes a bit far, but it's a point worth considering. What's more, particularly of late, both Venus and Serena seem to have wearied of the travel, the media interviews, the plasticized sponsor parties and the other off-court demands that attend being a star.
So where's their incentive? Practically speaking, there is plenty of financial motivation for them to stick around. Reebok, Nike, Puma, Wilson, Wilsons Leather, Wrigley, etc., ain't shelling out seven- (eight-? Do I hear nine-?) figure deals for them to study textiles, design hemlines and play with their dogs. Tennis has also given them a platform to raise both money and awareness for a variety of issues -- an offshoot of their success that both seem to be taking more seriously of late. Above all, both appear to have taken a page from Sampras' career playbook and girded for battle against the opponent that is history. (Did I really just write that horrible sentence?) Getting up to play Clijsters in Palo Alto is one thing; challenging Steffi, Chrissie, Martina, Maggie Court, etc., for all-time honors is another.
FromCNN/SI.com: Williams sisters lead U.S. Open field
Posted: Tuesday July 30, 2002 3:43 PM
Updated: Tuesday July 30, 2002 6:33 PM
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- Sisters Venus and Serena Williams, finalists at the last two Grand Slam tournaments, head the field for the U.S. Open, set for Aug. 26-Sept. 8 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.
Serena Williams beat Venus at Wimbledon and the French Open, avenging a loss to her sister in the finals of the Open last year. That was Venus Williams' second straight Open championship after Serena won the title in 1999.
Also in the women's field is Jennifer Capriati, winner of two Slams last year and the Australian Open in January. The Williams sisters and Capriati have swept the last nine Grand Slam events, every tournament since Wimbledon 2000.
Also entered are past Open champions Monica Seles, who won the title in 1991 and 1992, and Lindsay Davenport, the 1998 champion. Davenport will be playing in her first Grand Slam of the year after finishing 2001 as the No. 1 player in the world. She injured her right knee in the semifinals of the 2001 season-ending championships in November and did not return to the WTA Tour until last week.
Martina Hingis, recovering from ankle surgery, is not entered. The 1997 Open champion and holder of four other Grand Slam singles titles, Hingis had been the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open from 1997-2001.
The WTA Tour Singles Rankings as of July 15 are used to determine entry into the Open. The tournament draw will take place August 21.
For the second straight year, the women's final at the Open will be telecast live by CBS in prime time on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 8:30 p.m. The winner receives a record $900,000.
From USAToday: Foes take aim at Williams sisters
By Andrea Leand, Special for USA TODAY
Friday, August 23,2002
With the top two rankings in firm grasp and their recent domination of the sport near complete, Venus and Serena Williams join many in expecting another all-in-the-family final at the U.S. Open, which begins Monday.
Their success at the French Open and Wimbledon — not to mention a string of other events — have many wondering who will step up and offer any opposition to the sister stars. The returns of Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis from injury layoffs add more depth to the field but hardly faze the Williamses. Some top players even doubt how much they can do against them.
"Serena and Venus have raised their tennis to a different level this year," says fifth-ranked Jelena Dokic, who lost to Venus in the final of the Acura Classic in San Diego two weeks ago. "I have beaten Venus before, but it's very tough to do that now. You just have to hope they have a bad day, because if they are playing their best there is no way to beat them. They are that good."
The results substantiate such sentiment. Venus has won six titles and reached three other finals in 12 tournaments this year. Out with an ankle injury to start the year, Serena rebounded with five victories in nine events — including the French Open and Wimbledon. That took her from No. 9 to the first No. 1 ranking of her career.
It is not just their match records — Venus is 51-6 and Serena 38-4 — but their ease in winning that has stunned competitors.
"Before, you'd feel that if you played well and stayed in there you had a chance," No. 6 Kim Clijsters says of facing the Williamses. "But they have really improved this year. They are more consistent and focused. They play the big points better and know how to raise their game in the later rounds. They have much better attitudes and don't give you as many chances any more."
Over the decades, the emergence of champions inevitably raised the game's standards and forced the competition to improve or bow out.
In the '70s, Chris Evert personified grace, consistency and mental toughness. When a better-conditioned Martina Navratilova dominated the tour in the early '80s, Evert altered her training with a weightlifting routine and vitamin regimen to improve her athleticism and physical strength.
"The handwriting was on the wall; I could not compete with Martina's athleticism," Evert says. "I realized that if I wanted to compete with her I had to work on other aspects of my game.
"I began working on becoming a better athlete. Once I did, I was able to raise my level, get some wins over Martina and win a couple more French Open titles. I also could look back at my career knowing I did everything possible to play my best tennis."
Jennifer Capriati's leap to No. 1 and her Australian Open triumph in January spurred the Williamses to take their careers more seriously and improve their games. They rarely mentioned extracurricular activities or attending school as they focused solely on capturing Grand Slam titles and the No. 1 ranking.
Realizing they no longer could rely on natural ability and instinct, they began practicing and playing tournaments more often. Working with full-time trainer Kerri Brooks in the last year strengthened their injury-prone frames and improved their fitness and diet: No more bacon for Venus or calorie-laden cream sauces for Serena.
By spring, there was noticeable improvement in Serena's serve, movement and shot selection, and in Venus' forehand, consistency and court tactics.
"Either you have to improve or retire," Venus says. "I try to keep evolving. The first thing that separated me from the others was my height and reach. Not only am I tall, but I was blessed with speed. Now, I also tend to stay a lot calmer out (on court). I am much more consistent and don't miss the important shots. I feel like I'm cruising."
Such confidence leaves many wondering who can challenge the sisters.
Davenport trounced the sisters in the past but might lack the fine-tuning so early in her comeback to execute her plan. Davenport hurt a knee last November and didn't return to tennis until July. She has played four WTA events, reaching the semifinals twice and one final at Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Hingis attempted to outlast the sluggers by improving stamina and speed with a more rigorous training routine, which instead produced chronic injuries. Since returning to the tour this month after having foot surgery in May, Hingis has changed her tactics but concedes her best might not be good enough to beat the sisters. She played the Canadian Open last week, losing in the quarterfinals to Dokic, and is tuning up this week at the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Conn.
"Obviously, Hingis is never going to overpower the Williamses, but she and the others must realize that no player can play their best tennis every single match, including the Williamses," Evert says. "Eventually they will have a bad day and there will be opportunities to beat them. But these players must keep working on their games. Why haven't Capriati, Dokic or Hingis improved their serves? They simply cannot give up and let the Williamses steamroll them.
"When Martina (Navratilova) beat me 13 times in a row, I did not believe I was going to beat her that 14th match," Evert says. "But when she looked at me, I wanted her to see that I was still confident and wasn't going to roll over. I saw that she was not playing well in that match, so I stayed with her and eventually won (Key Biscayne in 1985). I went on to beat her the next three times. That's all it takes, one win to create a crack. And if Hingis and the others continue to improve, they will find the cracks with the Williamses, too."
Chanda Rubin's quarterfinal upset of Serena at the J.P. Morgan Chase event in Los Angeles last week ended the Wimbledon champion's 21-match winning streak and revealed some vulnerability for the first time in months.
Capriati, seeded No. 3 at the Open, has not won since January at the Australian Open, and she's reached just one final in seven months — last week at the Canadian Open. But despite four losses to Serena this year, Capriati refuses to concede anything to her rivals.
"I don't think (the Williamses) are that far from me," she says. "I still think I am right there with them and have come very close to beating them this year. It was a lot of tough three-setters. They are doing well and having their time, but I still think I can beat them.
"I just got caught up thinking I was the only one out there with a chance to beat them," says Capriati, who has hired a new trainer to travel with her. "But now I'm getting back to concentrating on my tennis and just having fun again out there."
Such a combination of belief and brawn seems essential to uprooting the sibling pair. It might take a communal effort; chipping away at the two top seeds in every round might wear them down. A letdown is also possible.
"I can only play so much," Venus says. "I can only take so much mentally. I'm only going to play a few events in the fall. But the U.S. Open is the last Grand Slam event of the year. And there is a huge difference in getting to the final and winning it. I've done it before and I know how to do it again.
"With doubles, the days are long and the commute hard, but I definitely am going to do my best to win and go out this year with a bang."