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MS. Women of the Year

Venus & Serena Williams

For serving up a discomforting mix of sinew,
grit, coal black, kink, and ‘tude—and daring to call it woman

The Williams sisters have what the elders used to call that plug-ugly beauty: a fierce gorgeous marked by flared nostril, unflinching glare, and a maddening competence that can’t be reckoned with. If you dare approach them wielding a racket, they will plow through you. The stats pretty much cover it: 30 individual tournament wins between them, including 5 Grand Slams. The sisters play tennis as if they invented it.

They constantly redesign the game, shatter its subtleties. Now, they own it. It never occurred to them to play like “women”. In fact, the word “play” never occurred to them. And their critics— who can’t understand why they wont get cute or kowtow, why they choose to destroy instead of demur—insist that they kiss the green, manicured butt of tennis and say, “Thank you for letting us be here.”

News flash: no one ever let the Williams sisters do anything. They don’t bother asking permission.

The teacup sensibilties of the sport are forever broken. Incensed spectators boo, or simply narrow their nostrils, sniff the air, and withhold their applause. “Being black only helps them,” hisses Martina Hingis. John McEnore, who barreled through his career like a cranky tot avoiding nap time, is hugely insulted by their very essence (“Would it kill them to say hello to people in the locker room?”), and Martina Navratilova, once the queen of Amazon cool, fails to recognize them as members of the sisterhood, opting instead to pout—“People have been treating them with kid gloves because they are African American.” There is no sadder sound then a race card being slapped on the table over and over by people who are no longer even in the game.

“The reason no one likes them is because they are so ugly!” screams one e-mailer in a chat room. “They look like men and should not be allowed to compete with the actually feminine players. Don’t put that comment down to racism, as I am colored.”


Never bowing to tennis’s staunch, whispered traditions, Venus and Serena are big and bodacious, flailing with finesse, their nappy hair slinging pearls, later braided into crowns. They are muscled hips twisting to some inherent and mystifying Delta rhythm. They are invincible.
---Patricia Smith