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Archive for Monday, July 10, 2000

Williams sisters quiet critics at Wimbly

July 10, 2000

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— Brash pronouncements that once grated have lost their edge. Annoying arrogance became refreshing candor when Venus Williams won Wimbledon.

Critics, including several players, complained that Venus and her sister Serena were too cocky, but such grumbling was nowhere to be heard Sunday.

Now that the sisters have backed up their boasts by winning two Grand Slam titles, they're being touted as the next big thing in tennis, with their personalities considered a plus.

"I'm dynamic," Venus said. "I'm a very different player from the regular champion. I'm a powerhouse. Plus I'm black."

With her 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over Lindsay Davenport in Saturday's final, Williams became the first black women's champion at Wimbledon since Althea Gibson in 1957-58. Fans, former champions and the international media were captivated not only by Williams' win, but also by the way she achieved it and reacted to it.

She won by overpowering and outrunning opponents with an athleticism rare in the women's game. And she celebrated the victory by bounding gleefully across the Centre Court grass, nearly forgetting the traditional end-of-match handshake with Davenport.

The BBC repeatedly replayed her celebration, and Williams' beaming, triumphant smile was displayed Sunday on newspapers around the world. Headlines in the London tabloids Sunday included "Venus de Smilo" and "Venus over the Moon."

In the Sunday Times of London's sports section, half the front page was devoted to a photo capturing Williams in midair, arms outstretched, exultant in her moment of glory. In the background, spectators smiled and cheered under the headline, "Venus In Orbit."

Even Davenport had to applaud.

"Venus and Serena are going to win many more titles," Davenport said. "They've done great things for the sport."

The sisters have already won two Grand Slam doubles titles together, and they'll try for a third Monday against Ai Sugiyama and Julie-Halard-Decugis. The match was postponed Sunday because rain extended the men's singles final to dusk. Venus and Serena have also won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles apiece.

The question now is whether they'll take over women's tennis the way many predict. Venus' Wimbledon singles title has silenced -- at least for now -- talk that the sisters might opt for early retirement, as their father has suggested.

But another issue is the sisters' health, which has been problematic. Venus, 20, was sidelined for six months until early May with tendinitis in both wrists, and Wimbledon was the first tournament in two months for Serena, 18, following a layoff because of knee tendinitis.

"They need to stay injury-free, which is a problem for them," former U.S. Open finalist Pam Shriver said. "You can't expect them suddenly to hit this consistent stride where they dominate all the majors. They still have some maturing to do."

And they still have some climbing to do. When Serena joined the tour in 1998, Venus predicted they would be ranked 1-2 by the end of the year, but it hasn't happened yet.

Venus beat three of the game's top players -- her sister, Martina Hingis and Davenport -- en route to winning Wimbledon, and she'll be ranked third this week behind Hingis and Davenport, tying her career best. Serena will rise to seventh and defend her U.S. Open title beginning Aug. 28.

At the moment there's remarkable balance near the top of women's tennis. In the past five years, five different players have won Wimbledon -- a first in the 117-year history of the tournament. Four different players -- including the Williams sisters -- have won the past four Grand Slams.

But now that their talents have been confirmed and their personalities embraced, Venus and Serena clearly have a shot at superstardom. As Venus said: "It's impossible to beat two of us."

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