Before Venus and Serena came along, the most celebrated tennis player by the name of Williams was a Philadelphian: Richard Norris Williams, II. Quite a handle, but he preferred that his pals call him Dick.
Dick almost didn’t make it much past his 21st birthday because he happened to be riding on a steamship called the Titanic that didn’t make it past the interruption of its maiden voyage in 1912. Intrepidly he dived into the chilling North Atlantic, swam to a collapsed lifeboat, hung on for 6 hours until picked up by the rescuing Carpathia, then thawed out by painfully walking the deck.
The following year he helped the United States lift the Davis Cup from Britain, and in 1914 and 1916 he won the U.S. singles title. I am reminded of that bygone Williams by the way the current Sisters Sledgehammer are sinking everything in their way as though they are twin icebergs. Down like the Titanic have gone 10 opponents, without a trace, as Venus and Serena arrived in Wimbledon’s semifinals. They have lost no matches, no sets. Nor have they been forced into any tie-breakers. An Italian, Roberta Vinci, took 7 games from Serena; Venus lost 5 twice. Hard going, huh?
The Sisters love the ball park, getting high on grass. They are in a major league of their own. while the other 126 entries represent the minors, the downtrodden.
Poor little Aggie Radwanska, who probably feels half as tall as Venus, was soon behind 0-5 in their quarter-final, and was quickly beaten, 6-1, 6-2. That was Big Sister’s 19th straight win at the Big W, qualifying her for a semi against Ms No. 1 in the rankings — Dinara Safina — but not in anybody’s belief, including Dinara’s. “Venus is so strong on grass,” Dinara concedes.
Serena fell behind Victoria Azarenka a service break, 3-2 in the second set — then decided it was time for the roof to cave in. Blasting aces and forehands, Little Sister took over, seizing the remaining games in her 6-2, 6-3, triumph. That completed the U.S.-Russia final four with Olympic gold victor Elena Demetrieva to oppose Serena.
The Sisters have been title winners in 7 of the last 9 years, 5 for Big Sister, 2 for Little Sister. If one doesn’t beat the other this time around, it will be the upset of the year.
“It’s simple,” says Serena. “Hard work is what does it for us. Ever since we were little kids.”
Venus says, “People ask me about strategy and game plans. I don’t have them, I just go out and play solid tennis.”
Clearly they have the best sparring partners in the world — each other. They’ve been battling intramurally since they were teenies, living together at home and when they’re at the same tournament.
Do they ever get bored with each other? “Never,” says Serena. “We don’t talk about tennis. We’ve got a million other things to talk about.”
Venus has been trussed up in bandages supporting her aching left knee. “That’s part of life as a tennis player: bandages and ice. Does it hurt? I’m still smiling.”
So the two woman sorority, Slamma Bamma Gamma, marches on. For how long? “I want to play here at Wimbledon in the 2012 Olympics. And Serena and I could be playing the doubles in 2016. We love playing doubles together.
That other Williams, Dick, relished doubles, too, playing in the 1924 Olympics, alongside Watson Washburn and winning the gold medal with Hazel Wightman in the mixed.