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
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific