A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Book It: Venus’ Confidence Rising
MIAMI, Fla. — Venus Williams signed copies of the new self-help book for teens, Sister Tales: Serving From the Hip – Ten Rules for Living, Loving and Winning on Wednesday at the NASDAQ-100 Open. She and sister Serena are co-authors. Apparently, Venus has been heeding her own advice because her confidence is at a peak.
This literary event was one of the more scintillating exchanges on a slow tennis day. With the right side of the draw emaciated by the exits of Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, Wednesday’s matches left fidgety fans gazing toward Crandon Beach.
Thursday, though, fans gladly suffered a relapse of tennis-watching neck as a packed schedule unfolds. We have Roger Federer vs. Tim Henman, the Swiss artist vs. the serve-and-volley preservationist; Andre Agassi vs. Taylor Dent, the aging Zen master vs. a would-be usurper, and the one that could the most dramatic or the biggest flop — Venus Williams vs. Maria Sharapova, tennis’ former queen vs. its current darling.
Williams defeated little sis Serena on Tuesday for the first time in 3 ½ years. Clobbered her, in fact. Could this be the beginning of a comeback for Williams? Can she return to the form of 1998, 1999 and 2001, when she won her Key Biscayne titles?
She’s four years removed from the most recent of her four Grand Slam titles; can she recapture the desire for another?
PAST VS. PRESENT
These are the questions that dog Williams, 24, and they will stand out in sharp relief against Sharapova, who is like a younger version of Williams. The 17-year-old possesses the long-limbed grace and forehand that once made Williams a star.
Sharapova, born in Siberia, also has the hunger, verbalized by her grunts. Does Williams — proclaimed ”Cinderella of the ghetto” by her father — still have it, or does it merely come and go, with a shrug and a demure smile, Williams’ usual response to unfathomable losses.
Has it really been eight years since Williams, 17, lost to Martina Hingis, 16, in the U.S. Open in the youngest Grand Slam final of the Open era? Today, the ninth-ranked Williams’ tennis career often seems secondary to her interior design career, endorsement gigs and fashion shoots. Hingis, bored and injured by 22, was seen Wednesday at the players’ patio, wearing heels and sipping coffee.
When Venus and Serena were the biggest sensations in sports, there was no stopping them, unless they stopped themselves. It appeared we were in for a long reign. Their only real rivals were each other.
But Venus was surpassed by Serena, whom her father described as the ”meaner” one. Then their dominance was eroded by injuries, a family tragedy and the demands of their entrepreneurship.
Will they rule again? Serena is coming off an Australian Open victory. Venus is the more enigmatic and sympathetic of the two. NASDAQ fans rooted for Venus. Serena lets it all hang out, and celebrity brings out the haughty diva in her. ”I don’t really think about other people because I really have to focus on me,” she told The Herald last week.
Venus is humbler, her sense of humor more subtle. When Serena loses, she’s steaming; when Venus loses, she’s resigned. She speaks with an endearing politeness. Her mother, who has mixed feelings about the wealth and fame, once hoped Venus would become a Jehovah’s Witness missionary.
Richard Williams has proven to be a prophet. He said his daughters would rise to No. 1, despite their shunning of the junior circuit, and he was right. He said they would learn other skills so they wouldn’t cling to tennis as TV commentators, and he was right. He said they would retire from tennis by 23 or 24, and he might be close to right. The book, signature fashion and design lines, McDonald’s commercials, a reality TV program — we want athletes to lead balanced lives, but we also criticize their lack of single-minded devotion to their sport.
The book addresses dating, diet, spending habits and self-esteem.
”I had a great role model in my sister,” Serena said. “She was never one to be partying, sneaking out.”
Now, Venus says she is serious about reclaiming No. 1.
”To be honest, it’s a given because I have the talent and the experience,” she said. “I just feel like it’s a matter of time.”
This time, she’s driven to rediscover an elusive feeling she can’t get as a businesswoman.
”I never felt like I played my best,” she said. “I think there’s one tournament [Hamburg, 2001] where I played my best, and even when I hit it wrong, it went in. One tournament in my whole career.”
She knows exactly what she has to do to keep winning. The question is whether she wants to.
”You have to be willing to die on the court,” she said, “whether you’re playing good or bad.”