Sunday, January 28, 2007
Updated: January 29, 1:30 PM ET
A force of nature
MELBOURNE, Australia -- When Venus and Serena Williams first began to win tennis matches on the pro tour, they instantly became one of the great sports stories of our era; I'll spare you the biographical details, because you'd have to have been living on Venus (the other one) if you don't know. When Venus won the 2000 U.S. Open, to join kid sister Serena as a Grand Slam event winner, they became the most improbable and, arguably, the greatest American sports story of our time.
Theirs was a saga nobody could match: Forget the myth about great tennis players coming from country-club culture -- that's never been true. However, great players almost always emerged from the tennis culture, something utterly unfamiliar to the Williams family until the day father Richard decided to make tennis players out of his daughters. Even if Peyton Manning gets his first Super Bowl ring on Sunday, and Eli snags one some time down the road, always remember that they came squarely out of the culture, in which their pro quarterback father Archie is an icon.
Now add this: In a sport littered with poignant stories of talented kids whose path to the top often incorporated an episode built around leaving an equally gifted sibling(s) in the wreckage, both girls flourished. Imagine if Tiger Woods had a brother. Imagine if that brother ended up winning multiple majors.
Frankly, the Williams' story is believable in only one aspect: It really happened. Can't argue with that, crazy as it sounds. But that isn't the end of it. There is no end of it, with the Williamses. The saga goes on. And on. And on. Serena wrote the latest chapter the other day here, when she completed one of the most comprehensive single-event makeovers in recent memory.
Serena entered the Australian Open seemingly unfit and conspicuously rusty; she left it the champ, in a performance that was equal parts Muhammad Ali, Andre Agassi, Michael Jordan and George Foreman. Serena entered the tournament with the bulk of pundits and even a sizeable portion of her hardcore fan base bemoaning what she had become -- a hefty cautionary tale about the perils of stardom, wavering dedication and narcissism.
Early in the tournament, her success seemed a sad comment on the competitive drive of the opponents she demolished; by the time she crushed a gritty, fit Maria Sharapova in the final, only a fool clung to that trope. This was not about how flawed her rivals are, or about Serena's fitness; this was about Serena being less a tennis player than a force of nature. A hurricane doesn't need to spend time in the gym or on the practice field to prepare for wreaking havoc.
After a teary Serena dedicated the win here to her late sister, Yetunde Price, she revealed that some years ago, in a conversation shortly after Serena had hammered some hapless ponytail with a backhand, Yetunde had remarked, "You beat her like she stole something."
Nothing has changed. Serena's rivals are all thieves in the night. The saga continues.
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A hurricane doesn't need to spend time in the gym or on the practice field to prepare for wreaking havoc.