Candid camera of the dotcom daddy

Richard Williams is serving up his own internet site, a documentary and a book about the making of champions
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The Independent Online

Richard Williams is moving through the crowds at Wimbledon at not much above a plod, smoking a cigarillo, talking on his mobile, stopping to sign autographs, greeting people who ask about his daughters. On his head sits the Royal Air Force cap, bearing the motto "Rise Above the Rest", given to him here last year. Over one shoulder, slung like a bandolier, is a British army belt, a new gift. From the other shoulder dangles a heavy camera bag.

The tennis daddy of them all is back among us, with a whole new raft of projects, dreams and opinions. And, of course, guiding Venus and Serena into the second week and towards more glory.

The cameras are Richard's new passion. He explains: "I am now an internet provider, building internet sites, and to build an internet you have to pay people for all the pictures. Trying to get a picture of Venus and Serena down at the Olympics in Australia cost so much I thought I would do my own pictures, save myself some money.

"Right now I have close to eight or nine cameras. Video cameras, cameras to make movies with, we have a camera for everything. It takes a lot of carrying, but you guys in England have great camera bags. I bought this one here," he said, patting the bag, lighting another cigarillo and taking his ease for a few moments on the players' tea lawn.

"I am going to do a picture book of my girls but the pictures I am taking right now are for my internet site. I have just completed a book, called The Heart of a Champion. It is more or less about Venus and Serena and explains what champions do and how you get a champion. Maybe it will sell well here in England. You need a champion, I'm telling you."

Richard is such a busy man you have to wonder how he continues to steer his daughters towards Grand Slam titles. "I am building a dotcom called womensportzone. That will be up and running very shortly." There is also, he says, a documentary which will air on British TV next month. "I have my own mineral water now, it's called Serving Rich, and I have my own sport-energy drink called Smash that will be released at the US Open.

"I am also into solar energy. In about two or three years from now I want to be producing solar batteries for cars. That's the future. I'm in school, too. I went back to college, taking a class in producing movies. Five or six weeks ago Serena told me, 'You always enjoy doing things so much I feel I'm doing nothing.' I thought, what a compliment from a child to a parent."

Richard considers all the attention the Williams family have generated. "I don't know if the girls like it, I can't speak for them, but I don't think I am worthy of it, to be honest. We are very fortunate to be where we are but when people ask me if I am surprised all this happened my answer is no. I plan everything I do, and if you keep updating your plans it's gonna happen, nothing can stop it.

"The first day I took Venus to a tennis court I walked home afterwards, I was too excited to drive the car. I was thinking, for the first time since Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe we were going to have a black champion. I said to my wife, 'We have a champion.' She said, 'Oh, you're just a proud father.' I couldn't convince her, so I took the motorcycle and rode over to my sister's house to tell her. She said, 'Are you kidding? It's too early to tell. Don't put any pressure on her.' I couldn't get no one to believe me. People in the neighbourhood said, 'Your girls ain't gonna be worth a shit, you're just wasting your time.' Everyone used to tell me that but I could never accept it because they had champion qualities. You see, a champion has to have four qualities. You have to be rough, you have to be tough, you have to be strong and mentally you have to be sound. Venus and Serena demonstrated those four qualities right from the start."

But you don't, he insists, need to spend all your time practising tennis to become a champion. "There has grown up in tennis something called a tradition. The tradition says that before you play you have to practise a couple of hours and practise every day. When that child grows up what will that child know to do? Nothing. How much money would they be able to keep? Nothing. Because they were never educated. You don't have to keep practising once you have the experience. Give yourself time to go to college like my girls are doing, run businesses like they're doing."

The plan backfired, he concedes, at the French Open where Venus lost in the first round, looking rusty. "If I was a betting man I would have lost all my money because I would have bet on her to win. But she had an injury. I don't want to talk about what it was."

So at what percentage of their best do the girls need to be to win Wimbledon? "If Venus plays about 64 per cent of her game it is going to be very difficult to beat her. Venus does not have to play 100 per cent to win. Serena will have to play a higher number, maybe 68 per cent. They have so much speed, the other girls know they're gonna get to every ball, and if we do that we're certainly going to win. That's what's so scary. Any time Venus or Serena walk on court I'm not sure the other girls are happy to see their names up there alongside my daughters."

He considers the prospect of an all-Williams final this year. "Wouldn't that be nice? I tell you what, if Venus or Serena wins this time I'm gonna do me another little dance on that roof and I'm gonna drink me some bourbon, take a little bourbon for the first time."

Richard says he may also be producing the board on which he scribbles messages to the world during his children's matches. "The board is right here in town, the board travels with me all the time. So many people now want to advertise on it. There was a guy offered me a ton of money to buy it, too. People are also trying to buy my films, they want to know what it is I see through that camera.

"I tell them I see the same as they do. I don't know why they think it's something different. It's not like I can put magic in the camera. I do not have no magic dust no more. It's all gone." He chuckles.