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The Inside Track

Q & A Withserena Williams

September 20, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Early Morning with Serena Williams" followed "Late Night with Serena and Venus Williams" at the U.S. Open. Less than 12 hours after Serena Williams dethroned her big sister Venus in the Open final earlier this month, she was ushered into a post-victory interview in a conference room at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

If this was all becoming painfully routine--Serena had done the same after beating Venus in the French Open and Wimbledon finals--she didn't let on.

"All I need is four hours to function," Williams said. A few verbal ground strokes to warm up and the No. 1-ranked player was off and ready to talk about her form, her fashion (a tight-fitting black catsuit became a national talking point) and her future (acting, perhaps?).

By winning her third consecutive Grand Slam tournament, Serena became the first player to do so since Steffi Graf took the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1996. More and more, Graf, not Venus, is the standard Serena is chasing.

Should Williams win the Australian Open in January, it would be four consecutive Grand Slam tournament titles, a Serena Slam of sorts. The last to do so, again, was Graf, who won the final three Grand Slam events in 1993 and opened 1994 by winning the first major, the Australian Open. Serena, who will turn 21 on Thursday, will be playing in the season-ending WTA Championships at Staples Center in November before the Australian Open in January.

Question: Has the reality of your accomplishments--four career Grand Slam titles by age 20 and the No. 1 ranking--settled in yet?

Answer: "It feels real. I've done a lot this year. I've had a decent year. I've made my goals. I'll probably be player of the year. But the match was so late, everything was so late."

Q: The USTA was criticized for the late start of the women's Open final, which followed the Miami-Florida college football game on CBS. Which meant the first ball was not hit until nearly 9:30 p.m. in New York. Did the lateness bother you?

A: "It didn't make me mad. But it was just kind of strange. I understand they had to put the football on. I had a meeting with the president of CBS [Les Moonves] when I was in L.A. And football, last year, women's tennis [the U.S. Open final] had more ratings when they went opposite each other. And there was such a difference--they had to put the football on earlier."

Q: Why did you have a meeting with the network executive?

A: "I'm trying to get into some shows. I'm a struggling actress. My Hollywood manager [Jill Smoller] set me up with a meeting with the president of CBS, so it was good. He was really nice. You get to see the [network] schedule of everything."

Q: Do you have an ideal acting role in mind?

A: "Do you remember the movie 'Clash of the Titans'? I really think they should do a remake of the movie and I would like to play the princess. I don't want to do it because it's a trend and everybody likes doing it. I've always liked acting. I think it's cool. We'll see."

Q: You said you've been working with an acting coach. Can you cry on cue?

A: "I'm not bad. Believe it or not. You'd be surprised."

Q: How do you handle the additional attention that comes with being the No. 1 player in the world?

A: "It's not that I really enjoy it, it's that I don't mind it. I think Venus minds it more than me, but I definitely do enjoy it. Maybe she has been in the public eye a little longer than I have and it's just different. She's gone through some different things and maybe tougher times and kind of paved the way for me. Now she just has a different outlook."

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Q: At the U.S. Open, Venus complained of being tired. Is she simply worn out from too much tennis in 2002?

A: "I don't think Venus is worn out at all. She defends her titles so well. Had she been playing anyone else besides me, she definitely would have won, especially at Wimbledon, which would have been her third in a row, and the U.S. Open, which would have been her third. I don't think she's worn out from defending or chasing me. I think it presents a challenge. I have a challenge also to try to stay ahead and she has a challenge to catch up and pass me."

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Q: How much of a difference does it make that the biggest threat comes from Venus and not the other players on the tour?

A: "At least I know Venus' game a little better. I feel more relaxed. When I played Lindsay [Davenport] in the semifinals, I was a little tight. I don't think I played well. Against Venus, I was way more relaxed, maybe because I felt either way, we'd both walk home winners. I really wanted to get to that point. I know Lindsay and [Amelie] Mauresmo wanted to stop us. They did a good job."

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Q: How have you changed in terms of discipline and focus since winning the first U.S. Open at age 17 in 1999?

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