Tennis: Serena's grand entrance heralds Williams era

Teenager becomes the first African-American woman to win a major title for 41 years

THE WAY Richard Williams tells it, he conceived the idea of fathering world-beating tennis daughters after switching on the television and watching Romania's Virginia Ruzici win $40,000.

The snag was that he already had three girls, none of whom was inclined towards stardom, and his wife, Oracene, was not keen to have more children.

So he hid her birth control pills.

Not one to do things by halves, Williams decided to double his chances after Venus was born. This time he persuaded one of his wife's friends to take the birth control pills from Oracene's handbag. Along came Serena.

At the United States Open on Saturday, Serena Williams, aged 17, became only the second African-American female to win a Grand Slam singles championship. She received a cheque for $750,000 (pounds 475,000) and a telephone call from President Clinton after defeating Martina Hingis, the world No 1, who had beaten Venus, aged 19, in the semi-finals.

From the time Venus and Serena first learned to play on park courts in Compton, Los Angeles (their father having made peace with members of the Bloods gang, who were not averse to shooting at tennis players), Richard Williams predicted that the younger daughter would be the better player.

He is not always right. Two weeks ago, he forecast that Venus and Serena would meet in the final. Still, one out of two is not bad. And Venus did contribute to her sister's success by draining Hingis of much of her mental and physical energy in their semi-final on Friday evening.

When the gigantic Arthur Ashe Stadium was opening, in 1997, Hingis defeated Venus in the final. Serena not only settled a score for the family in an arena named after the only African-American man to win Grand Slam singles titles, but she also followed the pioneering example of Althea Gibson, who won five Grand Slam singles titles in the 1950s, the last of them at nearby Forest Hills in 1958.

No sooner did Saturday's cheering for Serena's 6-3, 7-6 win stop, than regular observers of the game began to wonder if the triumph would have an adverse affect on Venus. The two sisters could not be closer, and nobody cheered louder than Venus. They practise together, play together, pray together, and share a home in Florida.

Until now, Venus was the front runner. She defeated Serena in their only previous singles final, at the Lipton Championships in Florida in March, and remains one place above her at No 3 in the world rankings. But little sister has won the big one.

"I think, if anything, it's going to motivate Venus," Serena said. "She was up there supporting me. After I lost my first two match points, I looked over - to not my mom or dad, I saw them also - but I saw Venus over there, really making sure, pumping me up. It really helped me.

"Venus was really down after her match with Martina. I've never seen her that down before. That encouraged to be even tougher out there today.

"My dad used to say to Venus and I: `Which big ones do you want to win?' I said the US Open. Venus said Wimbledon. I guess when she wins Wimbledon, she going to have the same feeling that I have now. It's really exciting."

Venus Williams was not the only one masking conflicting emotions with smiles, and joining in the hugs of congratulations.

Hingis achieved as much for herself, if not more, with her gracious manner in defeat as in any of her prodigious victories. The quality of the 18- year-old Swiss's play in advancing to the final had already erased doubts that she would be able to raise herself after the disappointment of a first-round loss at Wimbledon, shortly after the temper tantrums associated with her defeat by Steffi Graf in the French Open final.

Although struggling from the start to stem the power of a second Williams sister on consecutive days, Hingis fought to make her court-craft count.

After losing the opening three games of the first set, Hingis had two game points to level to 4-4. In the second set, she recovered from 2-3 and 3-4, saved two match points at 3-5, and broke Williams to love as the American betrayed nerves for the first time in serving for the set at 5-4.

The match appeared to be moving towards a third set when Williams double- faulted to 0-30 with Hingis leading, 6-5, but Williams contrived a backhand drop-shot off a reasonable return for 15-30. Hingis had one set point, after the second of five deuces, only to net a backhand under pressure.

Hingis made another recovery in the tie-break, from 2-4 to 4-4, only to be cracked by a mighty forehand return of her second serve. Hingis then played a backhand over the baseline on Williams' third match point.

Told that Richard Williams said she had been "scared out there", Hingis said: "I think I wasn't the only person at the end who was scared. Serena had two match points and wasn't able to close them out. I think she was a bit more scared than I was, actually, at the end, because I've been there, done it.

"She's a great competitor, a great fighter. It paid off for her today. Hopefully, next time I'm going to have a better chance."

Two of the most remarkable statistics from the final was that Hingis produced only seven winners, including serves, and that Williams committed 57 unforced errors. "Wow," Serena said. "Imagine if I stop making those errors."

Althea Gibson, the tall, athletic forerunner of the Williams sisters, lives in semi-reclusion in East Orange, New Jersey. "One of her best friends told me she wanted to see another African-American win a Slam before her time is up," Serena said. "I'm so excited I had a chance to accomplish that while she's still alive."

Angela Buxton, a Wimbledon singles finalist in 1956, keeps in touch with Gibson. "She was looking forward to watching the final on television, and is pleased that it keeps her name alive. Pleased in a way, because deep down, Althea still believes she was the best."

She was certainly the first, in that pre-open era, and she did not win a dollar.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk