08/30/2009 4:56 PM ET
Forces to be reckoned with
Serena, Venus still threats after all these years
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Venus and Serena Williams emerge as favorites in Flushing practically every year. (AP)

NEW YORK -- It has been a dozen years since Serena and Venus Williams first arrived at the U.S. Open as teenagers.

Two young black women from Compton, Calif., their hair woven into white beads that sometimes spilled onto the court, they were unlike anything the staid tennis world had ever seen.

And it has been 10 years since Serena beat the Swiss Miss Martina Hingis to win the first of the sisters' five titles in Flushing Meadows.

Serena is the defending champion at this year's Open and both she and her older sister will take the court Monday inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Serena, the No. 2 seed, faces Alexa Glatch of the U.S. in an afternoon match, while No. 3 Venus faces Vera Dushevina of Russia in the night session.

"I would love to do well here," said Serena, who won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year and now has 11 career Grand Slams. "I just love playing on this court. I just love playing in this atmosphere...and I'll just do my best."

In addition to preparing for the Open, Serena is also promoting her autobiography, "On The Line."

In it she documents some of the difficult times she and her sister endured as children while practicing with their father, Richard, on the outdoor courts in Compton. Richard raised both girls to be tennis stars, brashly telling the world they would one day dominate the virtually all-white sport.

Neighborhood children would taunt the sisters with shouts of "Blackie One and Blackie Two" until their older sister, Yetunde Price, ran the kids off, Serena wrote in the book.

"I love writing and then actually to have an opportunity to have a book coming out, which I think is just beyond cool," Serena said. "So I think it will motivate me to want to do really well here."

A tremendous competitor, Serena has never been one to hold back on her feelings.

She raised more than a few eyebrows when, after beating her sister to win the Wimbledon title, she took aim at Dinara Safina, the world's No. 1-ranked player and top seed here despite having never won a major.

"I promise you, everyone thinks I'm No. 1, everyone who's normal, anyway," Serena said. "A lot of people I run into think I'm No. 1 and I never correct them. I wouldn't trade this title for the ranking anyway. You can't take the No. 1 with you, it's not a real thing. But you leave here with the trophy and you can look at it for years to come."

Asked to expand on those comments on Saturday during a press conference, Serena said matter-of-factly: "I don't talk about that anymore. I'm sorry."

Safina, whose older brother, Marat, beat Pete Sampras to win the 2000 Open title and will play his last Open this year, had this to say: "I'm not doing the ranking system. You know, what can I do? There is ranking, and if you look at the ranking, I'm No. 1 in the world."

Pressed on her thoughts on Serena's comments, she added: "I don't care. I don't care. Really."

The upshot of Safina being No. 1 is that Serena, 27, and Venus, 29, are in the same half of the draw and could meet in the semifinals, not the championship.

Much to the chagrin CBS, no doubt.

Venus and Serena met in the first primetime final at the Open in 2001. That drew some 23 million fans, more than an afternoon football game that day between Notre Dame and Nebraska.

Tennis analyst Mary Carillo boldly predicted that the Williams' would dominate the majors from then on out, winning final after final.

Still, it was Carillo who criticized the Williams sisters in the years to come for their on-again, off-again approach to tennis. Their careers were repeatedly interrupted by outside interests (fashion and interior design), injuries and family tragedy. Price was shot to death in 2003 near the Compton courts where they practiced as children.

So what once seemed like an inevitability every year at the Open -- a Venus/Serena final -- became a rarity.

"Things happen," Venus said last year. "Life happened. You can't always predict it. The best part is that we're still here, going stronger than ever in my opinion."

But in recent years, while players like Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters retired (and in Clijsters' case, unretired), the Williams' have rebounded and remained at the top of their games, a threat to win just about every major.

The two young teenagers from Compton are now grown up, still going strong after all these years.

"When the guys [Federer and Nadal] are winning we say they are so good," Tennis Channel analyst Martina Navratilova said."But when the women are not taking it to the Williams sisters we're saying the women are not that good.

"Maybe it's because the Williams sisters are that good and take it to another level at the Slams."

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com.
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