The Williams sisters , Venus and Serena : I like them , Like them not , I like them ……Since they first came on the scene more than fifteen years ago , I’ve changed my mind about them more times than I care to remember.
At first I liked them and rooted for them to win. How could I not ? I mean , here were these two young girls from Compton battling their way into a sport in which African-Americans are conspicuous by their absence. Their muscular game with its blistering serves and powerful groundstrokes was a welcome change from that of the baseline hugging Europeans . I was wholeheartedly for them . The only fly in the ointment was the behavior of their father , Richard , who was boastful , arrogant and always seemed to inject the subject of race into interviews .
Then there was the Irina Spirlea incident. Irina Spirlea of Romania was Venus’s opponent in the U.S Open semi-finals in 1997. During a change-over , the two players collided near the net. After the match , won by Venus in a third set tie-breaker , Spirlea alleged that Venus was arrogant and never moved aside . I thought Venus showed a lot of class brushing aside the incident ; Richard Williams , however , called Spirlea an ” ugly , white turkey ” , a comment that was uncalled for . Venus went on to win the U.S. Open title but Spirlea never again reached those heights , retiring from the sport in 2000 at age 26.
I still rooted for the Williams sisters but then there were allegations that the two sisters avoided playing each other and that when they did , the result was dictated before-hand by their father. Given the father’s persona , it seemed not unlikely and I gradually found myself rooting against them , particularly against Venus . I always liked Serena better , even in those early years when Venus was the dominant sister.
I’d forgotten my earlier reservations and was once again in Serena’s corner when the 2010 U.S. Open happened .Incensed at a line judge who called a foot fault on her late in the match , Serena cursed at the hapless woman in an extended profanity – laden outburst . It was an ugly incident and Serena was fined a record $ 82, 500 and put on a meaningless probation . Two years later , during the 2011 final which she lost to Samantha Stosur , Serena again lost her cool and lambasted the umpire , Eva Asderaki . These two incidents put her firmly in my doghouse.
Since then , however , Serena has been well behaved and she has been easily the best player in the world this year even if she has not been ranked # 1 because she did not play in some mandatory tournaments . She won both the Wimbledon and the U.S open titles and absolutely demolished Maria Sharapova to win the Olympic Gold medal. Early in their careers , Venus was the dominant sister but Serena has quickly overtaken her . She now has 15 Grand Slam singles titles to Venus’ seven . Part of the reason , though not all of it , is that Venus suffers from Sjogren’s syndrome which causes joint pain and increased fatigue and she has been somewhat distracted by her interest in establishing her own fashion line , ElEven .
There was a lengthy article ” Deuce ” by John Jeremiah Sullivan in the New York Times magazine . The magazine cover showed the two sisters standing hand in hand and it was remarkable .I had always thought of Venus as taller , more powerful than Serena . In this photo , however , the two sisters seem to be almost the same height and it is Venus who looks the softer , more vulnerable of the two.
The in-depth article covers a lot of ground : Richard Williams and his determination to make his daughters into tennis stars , their mother Oracene who is probably an even better than her husband at analyzing and breaking down the games of her daughters opponents , the ugliness at Indian Wells when Serena was unmercifully booed even though it was Venus who had defaulted a semifinal match against her sister , Serena’s take on her U.S Open outbursts and Serena away from the tennis court. There was also mention of Yetunde , Oracene Williams’ oldest daughter who was shot and killed in 2003 in Compton , a tragedy that undoubtedly affected Venus and Serena ‘s play.
Reading the article confirmed my dislike of Richard Williams . I don’t buy Serena’s attempts to justify her behavior at the U.S Open but I think any criticism of her has to be mitigated by reason of the influence of Richard Williams and that she has been subject to some atrocious , racist behavior , particularly earlier in her career .One of the interviews was conducted at Serena’s Paris apartment ; the charming , gracious , unaffected fluently French-speaking Serena we meet here is a far cry from the one we are accustomed to seeing on court . Both sisters seem to have mellowed with time and they are to be admired for the manner they have battled back from their injuries .( Serena cut her foot and later suffered a life threatening embolism; Venus as I already mentioned suffered from Sjogren’s syndrome ) . Even more admirable is the way they have risen from the streets of Compton to the heights of pro tennis, a sport in which few African-Americans had made a mark.
So , once again , I find myself in Venus and Serena’s corner , not least for their aggressive , hard-hitting style of play . Venus is probably on the downside of her career , though she has been written off before and has bounced back . Except on grass , she is no longer the threat she once was . Serena , on the other hand looks like she could dominate for a few years more and a good thing too it is for American tennis . There are no other American tennis players , men or women , capable of mounting a serious challenge .