Serena Williams opens Open with a win and controversy

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The Independent Online

A Grand Slam tournament wouldn't be complete without controversy involving the Williams family, and the US Open began on Monday amid a debate about whether the sisters enjoy an advantage because they're black.

That's the contention of Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova.

Serena Williams tends to doubt it.

"I have gone to a store and been treated differently because I was black once," she said. "Other than that, no."

Williams, the 1999 Open champion, overcame a slow start in her first–round match to beat Anca Barna 4–6, 6–1, 6–2. She joined four other former women's champions – Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles and Arantxa Sanchez–Vicario – in the second round.

For Williams, the primary topic in her postmatch news conference wasn't a ragged performance that included 42 unforced errors, but rather a cover story about her and sister Venus in the latest issue of Time magazine. The article revisits the contention first made last spring by Hingis and Navratilova that being black is an advantage for the Williams family.

Hingis said the sisters get more endorsement deals because of their race. For the same reason, Navratilova said, people are reluctant to criticize the family's behavior.

Serena Williams responded: "I think in a sport that is a predominantly white sport, when people see new faces, like for instance golf with Tiger Woods, maybe if hockey were to have a superstar that was Spanish or maybe black, I think then maybe it would get a few more people to watch the sport. ...

"I get endorsements because I win, and I work hard. I go out there and have a good attitude and I smile."

Hingis said she didn't understand why comments she made several months ago were news now.

"I think I was right at that time," she said. "Why is it such a big deal?"

Davenport came to the defense of the sisters.

"They're great girls," she said. "They've changed totally in the five or six years they've played on the tour. I have no problems with them. They've done amazing things for our sport.

"A lot of times the fights aren't with them. The fights are a lot of times what other people say about them."