Williamses' wait nears end Wimbledon: The sisters' games, and beads, seem to be clicking just in time for a Grand Slam title.

June 29, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- The Williams sisters don't argue over clothes. They bicker about cookies.

They don't worry about defeating each other. They concentrate on beating everyone else.

And at this Wimbledon, they are showing that the future is now, that after years of waiting in the wings, they may be preparing to step right up and grab a Grand Slam title.

The main question is: Which sister will get one first?

When Wimbledon resumes today, 18-year-old Venus and 16-year-old Serena Williams will find themselves one match away from a potential clash of sisters in the round of 16. In today's third round, Venus meets Chanda Rubin, and Serena faces Virginia Ruano Pascual.

During the first wet, windy and unpredictable week at Wimbledon, the Williams sisters displayed the wondrous skills that have lifted them to stardom. And they showed how far and fast they have come since Venus lost in last year's first round while Serena sat in the stands reading a book.

Now, they're making a lot of noise, the beads in their hair clicking in time whenever they crunch a forehand or unload a backhand winner.

Venus already has slammed a world-record women's serve that was clocked at 125 mph on a speed gun. And she said she wasn't even trying to hit the ball hard.

Serena flexed her enormous shoulder muscles and then calmly overwhelmed another teen phenom named Mirjana Lucic, 6-3, 6-0.

They're ready for encores.

"I think everyone wants to win Wimbledon, especially the players who are doing well this year," said Venus, who is seeded No. 7. "I'm one of those players, and I think it's important that I keep things in focus and not overestimate or underestimate my opponents. I have a lot of confidence in what I'm doing."

So does Serena.

"I think I always believed in myself," she said.

Raised in Compton, Calif., their careers overseen by their father, Richard, the Williams sisters were stars even before they joined the tour. Richard Williams courted criticism by keeping his daughters out of the weekly limelight, by having them practice for years against one another instead of enrolling at a tennis academy.

It turns out his plan has worked spectacularly.

"My dad means everything to me," Serena Williams said. "He brought me up, he gave me life and he has supported me through all the years, even if I'm a bad girl. He's just always there for Venus and me and our whole family.

"Even if I play bad, he says I played a good game, and he always keeps your confidence up. Parents are normally considered as role models, but I think he definitely is one."

Richard Williams raised tennis players, not tennis brats.

Despite their competitive streak, they remain remarkably close. Asked separately what each likes about the other, they gave the same answer: They make each other laugh.

"I think we complement each other well," Venus said. "We're always together. I guess I can always laugh with her, too, and if we have problems that we've made for ourselves, we can laugh about them."

What do they want to change about each other?

Serena wants Venus to be shorter. Venus wants Serena to stop borrowing her things.

"I had this cookie and I went to do something for my mom and when I came back, the cookie was gone," Venus said. "I said, 'Serena, did you eat the cookie?' 'Yes, I did.' I said, 'I would appreciate it if you didn't do that anymore.' But that's not the first time she took my cookie. It's a long history. It dates back to '91."

On the court, the laughter stops. Each wants to win Wimbledon. But many in tennis say the sisters still lack the experience to cope with the bad bounces and swift play of grass, let alone the pressure of playing for the sport's greatest prize. No. 1 seed Martina Hingis, who beat Venus at the U.S. Open final, all but dismissed the chances of the Williamses to win here.

But Monica Seles said the Williams sisters have strengths and cannot be discounted.

"I feel that Serena has a little better chance than Venus," Seles said. "But then, Venus has such a great serve, anything can happen. You've got to stay strong mentally. So I would not dismiss anybody who was in there."

For now, they're still at Wimbledon, one win each away from their potential fourth-round clash. They've met twice before on tour, Venus winning both times.

But Venus takes nothing for granted against her kid sister.

"Serena is definitely a juggernaut," she said.

And how do you stop a juggernaut?

Venus Williams smiled and said, "I guess you have to become the nemesis."

Today's featured matches


Pete Sampras (1), U.S., vs. Thomas Enqvist, Sweden (completion of suspended match; Sampras leads 6-3, 5-5.)

Petr Korda (3), Czech Republic, vs. John Van Lottum, Netherlands

Patrick Rafter (6), Australia, vs. Tim Henman (12), Britain


Lindsay Davenport (2), U.S., vs. Magui Serna, Spain

Monica Seles (6), U.S., vs. Sandrine Testud (14), France

Venus Williams (7), U.S., vs. Chanda Rubin, U.S.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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