Tennis: Wimbledon - Williams typecast for the American dream

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The Independent Online
YOU CAN tell the girls with stellar potential by the attention paid to the biographical detail in the Women's Tennis Association handbook. Britain's Sam Smith, for example, has one favourite movie - Dead Poets Society; Venus Williams gets enough choices to fill several evening schedules on BBC2.

Shawshank Redemption, Coneheads, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More are just three of the seven listed which suggests Williams goes to the cinema more often than Barry Norman. Either that or she has a problem making her mind up.

Venus Williams, I hear you ask, what has she done to merit such scrutiny? Well she got to the US Open final last year for a start - the first non- seed to do so since Darlene Hard in 1958 - but in a sense that does not matter. The Americans are so desperate for a native-born female tennis player, that anyone with potential is hyped to death. Then they really start looking for the superlatives.

The more so since the search for the next Chris Evert is taking on the epic proportions last seen when someone misplaced the Holy Grail. Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger have come and gone and Jennifer Capriati is heading that way and no one has fully filled in for the divine Miss E since she stopped winning Grand Slams 12 years ago. Hence the attention on Venus rising.

The 18-year-old Williams is quadruply blessed. Not only is she seen as one the women most likely to have Old Glory fluttering proudly again but the fact she is black and not from the WASP roots from which American players normally spring has had potential sponsors drooling. Then there is the sister, Serena, who might turn out to be better. Even Tiger Woods does not have that in his locker.

Jana Nejedly, Williams opponent yesterday, also has a sister on the tour but, as she fills none of the above criteria, with the possible exception of a mouth that did not necessarily have a silver spoon inserted when she was born, no one notices. Who cares about Canadians - unless they decide to become British of course.

Nevertheless for several minutes yesterday it appeared Nejedly might be a surprise inclusion in the women's second round. Williams fell at the first hurdle last year, a result which she says she has forgotten, and a little thing appeared to have slipped her mind yesterday when her opponent was left on Court 13 for a full 10 minutes looking for someone to knock-up against.

Someone speculated that a slip had been made in Williams' hairstyle and her beads had spilled on the floor, a preposterous suggestion because such a disaster would take the entire Wimbledon fortnight to clear up, never mind a match. But just when it seemed a default might be imminent the American turned up with a "you've not been waiting for me, have you?" attitude which Joan Collins would have been proud of.

A wait, as Miss Collins could tell you, is only acceptable if the end product makes it worth it and it was difficult to criticise Williams. At 6ft 1in she would be striking even without the blue and white droplets in her locks (blue is her favourite colour by the way,) but the thing that really hits you is the difference when a tennis ball is in her vicinity.

When Williams walks she looks coltish, awkward even. Then the switch is pulled and she glides round a court with such energy, grace and power you wonder if you are watching the same person. The change was startling, recalling the story, albeit more extreme, of the England cricketers who giggled when they saw a young, seemingly uncoordinated player coming out to bat against them in the West Indies. His name was Clive Lloyd.

Not that Nejedly found the force being propelled towards her by the seventh seed remotely funny. She tried to match the high velocity shells only to find her accuracy could not compete and she lost the 6-3, 6-3 in 63 minutes of ferocious punishment.

It was a neat and tidy score but one that would have been over even more quickly if a rain interruption had not temporarily halted Williams' flow. Her serve, which is strong enough to suggest grass could become her favourite surface once she learns to live with its unpredictability, was broken at 2-1 in the second set, delaying the inevitable until the damage was immediately repaired.

"I don't have any expectation," Williams' mother, Oracene, said. "How can you predict anything at Wimbledon?" She might not expect, but her country does. Maybe not this time but in the near future certainly and yesterday she looked a future champion.