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Already the Best, Sisters Need to Play Their Best

Analysis: Venus and Serena Williams can answer match-fixing charges with strong Wimbledon final.

July 06, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WIMBLEDON, England — The Williams Tennis Assn. has arrived, and certainly, no one can say there wasn't any warning. Venus and Serena seemed to know it would be this way, and their coach and father Richard long ago predicted an era of domination.

Their journey to the top of women's tennis has been fascinating and, at times, controversial. But now that the sisters have reached the point of domination--today's all-Williams final at Wimbledon will be their third in a Grand Slam since September--it brings to mind a famous line in a movie about a political campaign.

At the end of "The Candidate," Robert Redford, having won the election, asks: "What do we do now?"

This seems to be the question for the Williams sisters. They've been unable to play even a semi-decent match against one another, on grass, on clay or on a hard court. Unfortunately, they can't share singles titles at Grand Slams. There is no tennis version of crossing the finish line at a marathon together, holding hands.

There is no sign of a next step, a crucial necessity because the novelty factor can only last so long. Fans will soon tire of going through two weeks of a Grand Slam, patiently waiting for the event to build to a crescendo, only to have the final fall flat. Is this what spectators have to look forward to the next few years? A hundred unforced errors between the two of them and one forehand winner from the loser?

The angst of playing a sibling and the psychological implications were all somewhat interesting stories to detail the last few years. Again, how long can it remain interesting to read about?

Familiarity has not made the matches much better. The second-seeded and younger Serena, who trails, 5-3, in their series, has won their last two meetings, which included last month's French Open final. It was her first Grand Slam title since the 1999 U.S. Open, and created some more history because Venus and Serena were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, after the tournament. They will flip spots on Monday, when Serena becomes No. 1, win or lose today.

However, those numbers did not receive all of the attention after the French Open. Closely examining the dreadful statistics in Paris, more than one European newspaper again raised the far-fetched contention of an arranged match. There has never been any evidence to support such an allegation, and the sisters, in the past, have denied instances of match-fixing in the strongest terms possible.

Oddly enough, this is the place where the speculation was at its peak when Venus defeated Serena in the Wimbledon semifinals two years ago. Questions were raised about a pre-arranged result by television commentators, British newspapers, and much later, an American supermarket tabloid.

Other players have said previously that they thought Richard Williams decided the outcome of the matches. Instead of disappearing, the sentiment has resurfaced this year at Wimbledon, and it's hard to tell if it's jealousy or bitterness, especially because the gap between Venus and Serena and the rest of the field has opened.

"I think that it's fixed," Amelie Mauresmo reportedly said in an interview with French television Thursday after she lost to Serena in the semifinals.

"I don't have any information, nothing at all. But having seen the matches, it could be fixed."

Oracene Williams, the mother and coach of the sisters, talked about the issue in an interview with TNT on Friday. She, not Richard, has been traveling with her daughters most of this year.

"Despite all the allegations that a game was fixed, people can believe what they want," she said. "It's difficult playing against each other because of the love they have for each other ... it's difficult to do with sisters."

The lingering perception would be corrected with a well-played match and would help erase doubts. Quite rightly, there should be more focus on the top-seeded Venus' quest to win her third consecutive Wimbledon or Serena's attempt to become the first player to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year since Steffi Graf in 1996.

"Wouldn't it be great for them to show off how great they play against one another?" former men's player Jim Courier said. "I mean that would be something that we have never seen before. I can't wait for it to happen, it just hasn't happened yet. The Williams sisters both playing at their best would be something that we would never have seen in tennis."

Today's final could be the start.

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