The Serena & Venus Show
Press Coverage of Their Triumph at the US Open
Kournikova is reviled because she's gorgeous and snotty. Hingis is disliked for her bluntness. The Williams sisters' arrogance -- and their dad -- rub players the wrong way. Just about everyone in women's tennis has got a beef with everyone else. No wonder the tennis is so good.
BY CHRIS SMITH for New York magazine
Jennifer Capriati is hot. Certainly in the wolf-whistle sense: She's exposing an insouciant stripe of tanned midriff above her tight silver tennis skirt. And definitely in the buzz-generating sense: This year, Capriati completed an electrifying comeback from teen-prodigy drug-rehab burnoutsville by winning her first two Grand Slam championships.
Capriati is also sweaty. It was nearly 100 degrees on the court this afternoon in Mahwah, New Jersey, where Capriati collected $80,000 for an hour's workout, laying an unmerciful beating on an ungainly Bulgarian in the semifinals of the A&P Tennis Classic. The event is one part tennis exhibition and three parts carnival. Tight behind one baseline is a stage full of amps and spotlights awaiting the Behind the Music-vintage rock bands that play here each night.
Jen wants a shower. So one last question: What was it like to open for Huey Lewis and the News?
"Open for them?" Capriati says, her mouth forming a half-smile, half-smirk; now she's steamed in a different way. "I thought they were following us."
Forget Anna Kournikova's trashy charms. The sexiest thing about women's tennis is the attitude. The top players all share Capriati's We are the show swagger, and ferocity animates the game both on court and off. Martina Hingis and Kournikova heave trophies and insults at each other. Capriati wants to kick Monica Seles's ass. Lindsay Davenport expresses the tour-wide resentment of the endorsement-endowed, victory-challenged Kournikova by calling her "a circus act." And everybody hates the Williams sisters and their evil-genius father, Richard Williams, so vehemently that players huddle around the TV sets in the women's locker room and high-five when an opponent nails a winner against Venus or Serena.
Some of the catfight hype is sexist. But not much. This isn't empty pro-wrestling-style snarling. Women's tennis is the rare pro sport where the infusion of big bucks has actually sparked rougher battles: Not only is there more money at stake, but the booming success of the women's game has freed its players to drop the saccharine we're-all-sisters piety that oozes from fan-hungry startups like women's pro soccer. "The animosities are very real," says Mary Carillo, a mixed-doubles champ in the late seventies and now the sharpest tennis analyst on TV. "A lot of the hostility actually gets played down."
Next week, when the 2001 U.S. Open begins in Queens, the tournament will validate the exploding popularity of women's tennis, capping the glittering two-week run with a first: CBS will showcase the women's-singles final on Saturday night, September 8, in prime time.
"Right now," Monica Seles says, "the men are just really dull."
Even without the favorable contrast to the O-Town boy-blandness on the male side of the draw -- excuse me, is that one Andy or Brad or Taylor or Mardy? -- the women are a compelling collection. Pampered millionaires, yes, but ones scuffed by adversity. Seles has tenaciously battled back from the on-court stabbing she suffered in 1993. The Williams sisters left Compton eight years ago for a ten-acre estate near West Palm Beach, but they've clung to their outsiders' edge. Hingis was named after the great Navratilova, but she was raised by a single mom working two factory jobs.
Capriati -- or "J-Cap," the new nickname that's certified her arrival as a pop star -- is realist enough to understand that everybody loves a winner. She also rightly sees another reason why the public has jumped on her bandwagon. "I think it's probably because they can relate to some similar situation in their lives," she says. "Working hard and coming through, everybody can relate to that."
That, and the raw desire to stomp your enemy into the dirt.
In November, the tennis-starved citizenry of Santiago, Chile, showed up expecting to watch a benign hour of net showmanship featuring Hingis, the No. 1-ranked player in women's tennis, and Kournikova, reputedly the most downloaded pinup in any realm. Players call these quick-cash exhibitions "hit-and-giggle shows." So why was Kournikova weeping?
A close call had gone against Hingis. She appealed to Kournikova, this being a friendly match. Kournikova agreed with the line judge. During the next changeover, Hingis was reportedly livid. "Do you think you are the queen?" she seethed. "Because I am the queen!"
Hingis, an intelligent and curious Czech native, enjoys the spotlight but is saddled with a toxic public image because she's blisteringly blunt. She famously blasted her 1999 Australian Open finals opponent, Amélie Mauresmo, a lesbian, as "half a man." Hingis jettisoned one doubles partner, Jana Novotna, by calling the 30-year-old "too old and slow"; Novotna responded that Hingis was "stupid." Hingis has also shared her frank estimation of Kournikova the singles player. "I've always been better," Hingis said, "and I beat her at the great tournaments."
Kournikova's reply? "You may be No. 1, but I'm more marketable than you."
Just two weeks before, Hingis and Kournikova teamed to win the doubles at Madison Square Garden in the Chase Championships. But in Chile, Hingis was chafing from close, prolonged exposure to the cult of Kournikova. The pouty blonde treats most of the women on the tour with haughty disdain and has often withdrawn from matches with dubious injuries. And last year she earned fifteen times more money from endorsements than she did from tennis.
In the locker room, Kournikova and Hingis screamed at each other. Vases, flowers, and trophies went airborne. "It was so bad," said Jaime Fillol, who ran the event, "I thought they were going to beat each other up." The only injury, however, was to the doubles partnership; Hingis dumped Kournikova for Seles -- until early August. At the U.S. Open, Kournikova and Hingis plan to resume taking out their anger on doubles opponents.
Talent has something to do with the increased rancor. The depth in the women's game is unprecedented, with new faces like the Belgian Kim Clijsters and the Virginian Meghann Shaughnessy capable of winning any day. And the style of play -- the thrilling physicality of Venus's 127-miles-per-hour serves and 19-year-old Justine Henin's booming backhand -- ratchets up the intensity.
Julie Anthony knows about both muscles and minds. She was a touring pro in the seventies and is now a clinical psychologist. "We women carry grudges: 'She acted like an asshole, and I'm not going to talk to her anymore,' " Anthony says. "McEnroe or Connors were jerks on the court and fine with the guy on the other side of the net afterwards. With the men, there was an acceptance that this was just a game."
So Capriati says the Williamses disrespect the game by claiming they don't train seriously. Ninth-ranked Nathalie Tauziat writes a book bemoaning the glorification of curves over serves. Hingis stirs spite because the Women's Tennis Association's arcane ratings system ranks her No. 1 even though Hingis hasn't won a Grand Slam event since January 1999.
Diagnosis, Dr. Anthony? "Little boys are brought up in team sports, knowing how to compete and having it be a fun, natural thing," she says. "Some of this is changing, but a lot of girls still come into tennis without a sports background or a team experience. You don't learn how to keep it nonpersonal, so that if you lost a match it didn't mean you had to hate your opponent."
Agents and the WTA contribute to the tension by pitting the players against one another for publicity and endorsement plums. Tauziat, in her French book The Underside of Women's Tennis, decries the vulgarity of mixing show business and break points. "Aesthetics and charisma are winning out over sporting performance," she huffs; apparently, SportsCenter isn't broadcast in France.
"The WTA made a very concerted effort to doll up the players, demand cover stories from magazines other than Tennis," Carillo says. "I've got some big problems with that. There are all these stories about: 'They're so glamorous, they can cook, they can juggle cats.' Sex does sell; I'm no dope. But I'm much more interested in the fact that Venus Williams is a remarkable athlete than that she sews her own sequins on moments before she walks to center court at Wimbledon. That's bullshit. I don't care. I want to know why she hasn't worked more on her second serve. I wish we'd spend more time celebrating what they can do as athletes."
Yet as any self-respecting shrink would tell you, many of the issues in women's tennis go back to parents. The women typically turn pro younger than the men, and they bring their parents along. Only a handful of tennis parents, like Jim Pierce and Damir Dokic, have actually tangled with the law, but the rest still make their presence felt. "Most men, tennis players or not, wouldn't be caught dead at the age of 21 in the same Zip Code as their parents," says L. Jon Wertheim, whose juicy, perceptive new book, Venus Envy, chronicles the 2000 women's tour.
"You never see Andre Agassi's dad. The Williams sisters, Hingis, Capriati, still not only travel with their parents but have them as coaches. There's a physical component too.If Richard Williams, who is six-four, wants to yell at his daughters, that's one thing. But a guy isn't going to put up with that."
Which is just a hypothetical example, Wertheim stresses. Richard Williams spends more time antagonizing other people's daughters.
The first round of the 1999 U.S. open had barely ended when Richard Williams made his guarantee: an all-Williams final. Hingis, the top seed, accused father and daughters of being ignorant loudmouths. Then Serena fired back that at least she had graduated from high school -- it was Hingis who suffered from "a lack of formal education."
The bickering kept escalating. Then, after Hingis won her third-round match, she began her press conference with a forced smile and scripted words. "I heard this morning that a certain person is always asking for my autograph at every tournament," Hingis announced. "I'd like to give something to that certain person." Enter Richard Williams. Hingis handed him a T-shirt with her name scribbled on the front. "She was cringing," Carillo says. "The Women's Tennis Association public-relations people had cooked up this twisted and bizarre stunt. Hingis didn't want to give this guy a T-shirt. She wanted to give him something else."
The truce, such as it was, held until last September, when the cast reassembled at the U.S. Open. This time Richard Williams waited until Venus had defeated Lindsay Davenport in the finals to launch his attacks. "If Martina or Lindsay can't step up their games and reach the bar we've set, Venus or Serena will win the Open every year," he said. "I can't see Hingis getting any better. And Lindsay is getting old and slower. You know, Hingis is an inch shorter than when I first met her. She should come to me and say, 'Master Williams, I want you to help me. I want to be better.' And I could help her. I've got a friend in Compton, and when he's not high, he's a surgeon. He could saw her legs off and attach new legs that are a couple of inches taller. Her legs are too short to run the ball down."
Somehow Hingis has resisted the transplant offer. Meanwhile, the debate continues: Is Richard Williams a crafty showman in the grandly weird tradition of Don King? Or is he just nuts?
Rick Macci coached the Williams sisters for five years. Nevertheless, he's still baffled. "Richard has his own madness," Macci says. "When he says left, it means right. He might be stirring up all this trouble to toughen up Serena and Venus. But he's both calculating and wacky, and that's a scary combination."
At a March tournament in Indian Wells, California, Venus withdrew five minutes before her scheduled match, claiming a sore knee. The sold-out crowd vented its pique on Serena, booing her viciously. Afterward, Richard Williams claimed fans taunted his family with racial slurs.
Carillo says most of the women try to temper their public comments about Richard Williams, though privately they resent him for grabbing the headlines that should focus solely on his daughters' achievements. "They pull their punches, reacting to what Richard says about racism," she says. "It's become a big issue. He thrives in that climate of turmoil, saying something ridiculous. But he's made it much lonelier for his kids."
"There's an enormous amount of jealousy regarding Venus and Serena," Macci says. "They've got the biggest contracts, except for Kournikova, and they're not the most social people on the tour; they play and they're out. They're not afraid to talk a little smack, and women's tennis didn't really have that. It has also made other players step up and say how they really feel."
Davenport, for one, doesn't hide her analysis; it's instant and scalding. "Oh, all of what Richard says is calculated," she says. "He does all that on purpose, to get a rise out of the media, to get some attention. And so that Venus and Serena stick together. They have an attitude that it's 'us against everybody else.' "
Davenport is an anomaly on the tour. Profoundly uninterested in off-court glamour -- she'd rather be known as a pure jock -- the Californian is the only top pro without an entourage; Davenport's business-executive parents are almost never seen on the tour. She's six-two and has wrestled repeatedly with her weight, which at one time topped 200 pounds, prompting other women on the tour to nickname Davenport "Dump Truck" -- behind her back, of course. All of which has endeared Davenport to the media, which portrays her as a hardworking, regular-gal underdog with her ego under control.
Not that Davenport doesn't have a nasty side, too. Last year, she and Hingis vowed they'd achieve a Williams-free final. Davenport held up her end, only to meet a furious Venus for the championship. "It's getting to be like the WWF," Williams said before the showdown. Three epic sets later, Williams had put Davenport in her place. With the crowd roaring after the last point, Richard Williams hopped on the court to perform a bizarre victory shimmy. Davenport didn't wrap Venus in a phony hug. Instead, she packed her gear and turned her head away, too livid to watch the Williams celebration.
"It's better not to see how they act," she said.
A year later, Davenport is still bristling. "I should have taken the final and didn't," she says. The lesson she learned is all about aggression: "You've gotta go after Venus." And this year, Davenport promises, she will.
Bring it on, answers Venus. "Last year was last year, and it was great," says the defending champ. "But I want it this year, too."
London's tabloids do an admirable job of whipping up two weeks of tennis-related headline froth during the Wimbledon fortnight. New York, though, adds its own special coarse sand to the grinding gears of women's-tennis hostility. In London, the players stay in comfortable flats within walking distance of the center-court shrine, and the atmosphere is suffused with genteel history. By the U.S. Open, however, the women are cranky and worn out from a grueling eight months of transatlantic hard-court combat. It's the ideal mood with which to greet the late August New York humidity. And whether it's Kournikova staying at the U.N. Plaza or the Williams sisters at the Essex House, all the players gripe about the battle through midtown traffic to Flushing Meadows. "It sometimes feels that we spend as much time in the car as we do on the court," Venus Williams says.
Capriati's U.S. Open memories are just as mixed. She stormed to the semifinals as a 15-year-old in 1991. Two years ago, she lost to Seles in the fourth round -- a respectable showing, considering she'd lost 30 pounds in the previous year as she attempted to reclaim her career. In her post-match press conference, Capriati read a heartfelt, if scattered, 500-word essay, attempting to shut the door on questions about her teenage "rebellion." Then she fell to pieces, the disappointment of the loss and the relentlessness of the reporter's questions destroying what little self-confidence she'd pieced back together. In tears, Capriati fell into the arms of a WTA press aide, then into a hug from her bawling mother.
The tabloids judged Capriati's performance pathetic. Now the moment looks cathartic. "It was a line of demarcation of her maturing and growing up," says Harold Solomon, the former men's pro who was Capriati's coach at the time. "That was the point where she went from a little girl to a woman, standing up for herself, taking responsibility for herself, and growing up, as far as her inner self was concerned, right after that. It made a huge difference for her."
Not that Capriati has learned to balance her life completely. She pushed herself into prime physical condition at the beginning of 2000, won some mid-level tournaments, and saw her ranking rise from 101 to 12. Her forehand was smacking wicked, sinking returns, balls so heavy they deserved their own atomic number.
Then Capriati fell in love. She hooked up with Belgian tennis player Xavier Malisse, put on fifteen pounds, and began to sputter out in the early rounds. Capriati is something of an obsessive, devoting herself wholly to one pursuit at a time, and for six months the object of all her attention was Malisse. She split with Solomon and reinstalled her father as her coach.
Then, in November, the relationship with Malisse foundered. Tennis filled the void. Capriati began to train more seriously again, and in January defeated Hingis in a shocking upset to win the Australian Open.
Venus Williams claims she isn't annoyed by all the hype proclaiming 2001 as "Capriati's year." Yet she is well aware that her own accomplishments are getting lost. If she repeats as U.S. Open champ, Venus will have won four of the past six major tourneys. Women's tennis hasn't seen that kind of sustained dominance since the heyday of Steffi Graf.
Critics complain that the Williams sisters don't play enough tennis, but Venus seems to be peaking at exactly the right moment. Two weeks ago, in San Diego, Venus flattened Seles in straight sets while making just fourteen unforced errors.
Last year, John McEnroe stoked an Open controversy by demeaning the women's tour and the Williams sisters in particular, all but promising he could beat either Serena or Venus with one hand tied behind his 42-year-old back. This year, there's a new attraction immediately after the women's final, a Heineken-sponsored nostalgia exhibition between Boris Becker and McEnroe.
Picture it: The match everyone wants to see, pitting defending champ Venus against girl-of-the-year Capriati, starts at 8 p.m. After three tingling sets, the beaming winner basks in a trophy ceremony.
Soon it's midnight. McEnroe shuffles onto center court. There's more crushed beer cups than fans in the stands. Johnny Mac always did want to be a rock star. Now he'll know what it felt like to be the band that followed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
From the August 27, 2001 issue of New York Magazine
The New York Times on September 08, 2001
Williams Sisters Have a Date With History at the Open
By SELENA ROBERTS
On opposite ends of a ragged court in Compton, Calif., two sisters in pigtails stared across the net at each other, gritting their last baby teeth in an intense game they called Do-or-Die.
It was first serve or bust for 7- year-old Serena Williams and 8- year-old Venus Williams, locked in a custom-designed match drawn up to test their nerve.
"If you didn't hit your first serve, you lose the match," said Oracene Williams, the mother of Venus and Serena. "It was do-or-die, and it was always for the U.S. Open championship."
It was not just kid stuff. Out of a fantasy hatched 3,000 miles from Queens more than a decade ago, despite controversies that have overshadowed their talents, the unconventional Venus and Serena Williams transformed a far-fetched vision into a history-making event.
Once Venus Williams willed backhand winners down the line against the fury of Jennifer Capriati's lasso-style forehands yesterday in a 6-4, 6-2 victory, once Serena Williams dismantled Martina Hingis's confidence by applying savvy with power during a 6-3, 6-2 victory, they became the first sisters in the Open era to advance to the final of a major tournament.
In 1884 Maud Watson defeated her little sister, Lilian, at Wimbledon's inaugural ladies' championship final, but that was long before the debut of professional women's tennis in 1968. Now, a revolution that began with Billie Jean King will be taken through another cultural passage tonight when Venus and Serena Williams walk out of the tunnel in Arthur Ashe Stadium for a final in prime time.
"I don't think they can even appreciate what this means right now," said Oracene Williams, sitting back in the players' lounge yesterday afternoon. "It's the real deal, though. It's like no one knew the impact Ali made until it registered in the history books."
How will history play out? In the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals, an all-Williams match resulted in an awkward display of tennis. At Indian Wells in March, Venus Williams cited an injury when she pulled out of a semifinal match against her sister six minutes before it was scheduled to begin. The credibility of the Williams family was already in question when players suggested that the sisters' father, Richard, fixed the outcome of their Wimbledon semifinal.
"I'm just appalled anyone would hint something like that," Venus Williams said after coming back from a 4-1 deficit to swipe the first set and then the match from Capriati. "I don't think that has ever been the case."
In the months since Indian Wells, the Williams sisters have been on a charm offensive. With good humor instead of bitterness, they have restored a lot of good will by disarming the crowds that have rooted against them. Tonight they will realize what people want to see: two sisters going all out to win.
"A lot of matches we have played haven't been considered championship, heroic matches," Venus Williams said. "I think this will be different."
There is reason to believe it. They have not met under the current circumstances. The last time they played was in the semifinals of Wimbledon last year, a match Venus Williams won en route to her first major title. In 1999 Serena was the first of the sisters to win a major with the United States Open championship. On that day, Venus Williams was sitting emotionless in the stands, wondering what had gone wrong. Wasn't she supposed to be first?
"That day meant Venus had to stop playing around and get serious," Oracene Williams said. "It was a wake-up call for Venus."
A year later, she won Wimbledon, followed by the United States Open. In July she came full circle to dominate the All England Club once again en route to her second Wimbledon title.
Outside of Venus Williams, the only other player to dominate the women's tour recently has been Capriati, winner of the Australian Open and French Open. For a brief moment yesterday, Capriati was on her way to breaking up an all-Williams final.
In the first five games, Capriati was relentless in whipping her ground strokes on the fringe of the baselines, channeling her might right down the middle of the court. The object was to tie up the grasshopper- like arms of the 6-foot-2 Williams. By jamming her wingspan, Capriati could dilute the power Williams can produce when she is on the run, swinging with freedom.
By following through on her blueprint, Capriati forced Williams into unforced errors and captured a 4-1 lead in the first set. Applying the pressure was one thing, but keeping up that pounding directive was exhausting. Slowly, Capriati's shots fell a tad shorter and began drifting from the middle.
Williams was able to stretch out and unwind. In the seventh game of the first set, she crushed a backhand down the line that left the scrambling Capriati stabbing in futility. The same scene played over and over for the rest of a match that ended with Williams hitting 21 winners to only 4 for Capriati.
"I definitely ran out of gas," Capriati said. "You had to work the point so much, every point. I think it took its toll. She played great."
With one remarkable effort, the Tour's most dominant player prevented a changing of the guard atop the ranking. If Capriati had won, she would have taken over as the top player on the women's Tour. As unbelievable as it may seem, Hingis's consistency is being rewarded. Although she has not won a major since the 1999 Australian Open, Hingis retained the No. 1 ranking even though she could not come close to matching the power or strategy of Serena Williams.
"I didn't know whether she was going forehand or backhand," Hingis said. "Just mentally, I was too passive in trying to look at what was going to happen out there."
Hingis was just a bystander in the second set. Amazingly, Serena Williams nailed 17 of 17 first-serve opportunities and came up with five second-set aces along the way.
"You're kidding," she said when told of her statistics. "No, I can't serve any better than that. I didn't imagine in my wildest dreams that I would have been 100 percent."
Hingis had no reply. Unable to read Williams's 115-mile-an-hour serves, unable to even get her strings on the ball, Hingis was not long for the match.
"She just played well," Hingis said. "She played smart. She waited for her chances. And she hit winners. I was too defensive."
On the attack, both sisters took over their opponents with surprising ease. After several years of waiting for Venus and Serena Williams to dedicate themselves to tennis at the same time, the two have finally arrived at a place they seemed destined for.
"If you work hard, things are going to come for you," Serena Williams said. "If you're a slacker, you're just going to get slacking results. We figure if we work hard, things are definitely going to come. Obviously, we do set goals for ourselves."
The goal was set long ago, in a game of Do-or-Die.
"I'm not really surprised," Oracene Williams said. "This is what was expected of them. I've never allowed words like `can't' and `pressure' into their vocabulary. I knew they would get to this place."
STAGE IS SET FOR
A SIBLING RIVALRY
By TODD VENEZIA
September 8, 2001 -- Venus and Serena Williams aced their way through the U.S. Open's semifinals before a celebrity-packed crowd and became the first sisters to play for a Grand Slam crown in more than a century.
"It's the dream of my life," said their beaming father, Richard Williams.
Venus added, "It's sweet, it's sweet. Just real nice. Had a lot of blessings from God."
Serena was overjoyed. "It will be great history," she said.
The only other time two sisters played for such a title was in 1884, when Maud Watson defeated Lillian Watson at Wimbledon.
The sisters were cheered though the semifinals yesterday by a VIP audience that included Bruce Willis, William Shatner, Helen Hunt, David Hasselhoff, Knick Allen Houston, baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and Alan King .
Rapper Jay-Z, watching his first tennis match, said, "This was incredible. I'm very honored to be here."
Before the dramatic semifinals matches, the sisters' business adviser, Leland Hardy, stole the show by appearing on a practice court with Serena.
Hardy retrieved balls and drew the audience's attention when he grabbed a racket - dressed in a Chairman Mao suit, black fedora with feather and white socks.
"You have to come with a certain level of class and sophistication when you are associated with the premier athletes in this sport," he said.
And the heat didn't bother him at all.
"I never sweat a drop," said Hardy, 40, a former heavyweight boxer.
Both of the sisters' victories yesterday were upsets.
In the semifinals, Serena, 19, and seeded tenth, ousted top-seeded Martina Hingis 6-3, 6-2 in a speedy 51 minutes. Then Venus, 21, and seeded No. 4, knocked off second-seeded Jennifer Capriati 6-4, 6-2.
Hardy said tonight's 8 p.m. matchup is a milestone for African-Americans.
"Millions of young people of all colors will watch this and see they can do things the way they want to and do the best," he said.
Singer/actress Brandy, who was also in the stands, said, "There's no words to express what the Williams sisters have accomplished.”
"I always wanted to get to see them play each other here," she said, adding she'll be back to watch them tonight.
Venus has won four of the five previous matches against her sister, and celebs were divided about who to root for.
"I'm going to cheer every single point, no matter who makes it," said "The View's" Star Jones.
"I've got to lean towards Serena because I've known her longer," said Jay-Z, who put her in one of his videos.
Comedian Jamie Foxx said, "I'll be rooting for 'Servenus.'"
REUTERS via MSNBC.com
Evert concedes father knows best
Tennis legend says Richard Williams’ approach was right
NEW YORK, Sept. 8 — Chris Evert, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, was among the doubters about the path that Richard Williams chose to follow in making daughters Venus and Serena tennis champions. Evert is now willing to concede that his unorthodox approach clearly worked wonders.
“NOW THAT HE is seeing his dream come true it must be a wonderful feeling,” Evert said, clearly impressed with Venus’s and Serena’s success. “He obviously saw the athleticism and power that they had.
“I’m not advocating that people don’t play junior tennis because those are the matches that kids learn from - they are building blocks to their career.
“But for some people like Serena and Venus, they were able to make up the time they lost by not being in the juniors and become champions.”
Evert is the perfect person to discuss the subject of sibling rivalry as it relates to Venus and Serena since she was one of five children raised to play tennis by their teaching pro father, Jimmy.
Evert’s younger sister, Jeannie, was closest in age to her and while they were mismatched when it came to talent, they frequently battled it out in junior competition.
Knowing that Jeannie was obsessed with beating her every time they played leaves Evert somewhat puzzled as to why Serena does not seem to possess that younger sister hunger to beat Venus.
“I played my sister and it was the worst feeling - I would want to get on the court and get off quickly,” said Evert, who is at the U.S. Open in her new role as publisher of Tennis Magazine.
“But I always knew that Jeannie wanted to beat me really badly. I haven’t seen that vicious side of Serena. She never did beat me, but I always knew if she could have, she would have.”
Evert, whose Grand Slam titles include six at the U.S. Open, admits to being upset that the evolution of the women’s game means it is unlikely that another player short in stature will ever be able to dominate the sport. Evert expects Martina Hingis will be the last player who possess a similar package as her own - winning on brain power and tactics - to emerge at the top of the women’s game where heavy hitters such as the Williams sisters are now in control.
She even questions whether baseliner Jennifer Capriati, who powered her way to the Australian and French Open titles this year, can hold her own against the muscle of Venus and Serena Williams.
“I think it is probably great for women’s tennis but kind of sad to me that there will never be a player like me or Martina Hingis to ever be No. 1 again,” Evert said.
“It’s not enough to have mental toughness, or to be crafty or to be accurate - it’s’ just not enough. If you don’t overpower your opponent then you’re not the ultimate athlete and it’s not going to be good enough.
“If you look at past champions like Billie Jean (King), Evonne Goolagong, Margaret Court, everybody had their frailties but we overcame them with our strengths and now that’s not going to ever happen again.”
Venus Wins Sisters Act
One Williams Beats the Other in U.S. Open Final
By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2001; Page A01
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y., Sept. 8 -- Other famous sisters came to mind. The Brontes. Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. King Lear's daughters, one of whom said, "I am made of the same mettle as my sister, and prize me at her worth." But perhaps never has a sibling rivalry been displayed on such a bright and public stage as it was tonight, when Venus Williams, 21, defeated the woman she grew up with, Serena Williams, 19, to win the U.S. Open women's singles title.
On the grounds of a public park, where the stadiums are named after Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong, the Williams sisters made history of various sorts. Their meeting represented the first time in the history of professional tennis that sisters met in a Grand Slam final. It was the first time two African Americans played for a major singles title. And it was the first U.S. Open women's final to be broadcast on prime-time television.
If the circumstances were historic, the quality of play was not, as Venus defeated her clearly unsettled sister in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2. Afterward, elder sister embraced younger sister at the net, reluctant to celebrate. "I love you, okay?" she said. Then they sat in courtside chairs as they waited for the post-match ceremonies and trophy presentation, side by side.
"You know, there some good things and some bad things," Venus said. "I always want Serena to win, so it's kind of strange. I'm the big sister, I take care of her, I make sure she has everything, even if I don't have anything. I love her, and it's hard."
"Oh, stop," Serena said, giggling at her elbow.
The match lasted just 69 minutes and was something of an anticlimax after the Super Bowl-like festivities that preceded it. Introduced by a heraldic blast of trumpets, Diana Ross sang "God Bless America," backed by a robed choir of schoolgirls. Billie Jean King, the Hall of Fame champion and champion of women's rights, conducted the coin toss. "It's a milestone that helps people of color, that helps women, that helps everyone, because the Williams sisters have transcended sport," King said before the match.
In 1968, King helped to take a closed elitist and amateur sport into a more open era, professionalizing it and also popularizing it. But much of the progress she made had arguably eroded prior to the development of the Williams sisters.
After the provocative, intelligent stars of the 1970s and '80s retired, the game went into a ratings and box office slump. It was no accident that King, Ashe, Chris Evert, and Jimmy Connors, the cadre who produced the tennis boom of the '70s, were all public courts kids, ambitious playground products, some of them with a dose of righteous anger.
With the passing of that generation, tennis did not broaden its base, as happened with golf. Rather, it remained a stubbornly closed culture and the number of players in the United States actually diminished rather than grew, as country club experts continued to teach that it was expensive and hard to play. The Williamses demonstrated that all you really need is some smarts, talent, a couple of cracked rackets and a hard court. It could be argued that tennis finally went public tonight, because the Williams sisters are the products of a public court in Compton, Calif., where they first took up the game before moving to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Attendance at the final proved the box office value of two such charismatic new stars, and among the crowd of 23,023 were luminaries such as included actresses Candice Bergen and Helen Hunt, NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
The young women, carrying red racket bags and followed by a phalanx of cameras and lights, exchanged a glance and a giggle as they took the court to a standing ovation. Serena wore a dress of glaring yellow with tiger stripes. Venus wore a more subdued white and yellow dress with a hooded jacket.
In all of the prime time pyrotechnics and historical significance of the match, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that a smaller and more intimate family drama was also playing out. The two young women spent much of the day at their Manhattan hotel, resting and preparing for a match that was no doubt difficult for all of their family members. "Venus wants to defend, and Serena wants it back," said their mother, Oracene, in the stands before the first ball went up.
They are the boldest American players to come along in a generation, but they are also intimates and confidantes who clearly had mixed feelings about meeting in the role of opponents. Each claims the only player standing between her and the No. 1 ranking is the other. Between them, they have won five of the last nine Grand Slam events.
But for the moment, Venus is preeminent. "For the younger sisters we always look up to the bigger sisters, and they're older and always ahead of us," Serena said.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
Newsweek, Newsmakers from Sept 17 issue
A Family of Champions So what if Venus overpowered baby sis Serena in two quick sets at the U.S. Open. It was really a victory for the whole Williams family. The famously cocky clan has been bragging for years that the siblings were the best in the world—and now they’ve proved that claim in prime time. They may not be technically ranked No. 1 (Martina Hingis is holding on by her fingernails), but their no-holds-barred performance proves that when these two raise their racquets, everyone else on court should run for cover.