Venus Williams spent a few moments yesterday regretting a mistake she considered she made at Wimbledon last year. "I look back and think I could have picked a nicer dress to wear at the Champions' Dinner," she said.
The defending women's singles champion found little consolation in reassurances that the long, figure-hugging lavender number was perfect for the occasion and was complemented by her sister and doubles partner Serena's pink outfit. Moreover, Pete Sampras's final finished so late that he came in his working clothes.
Clothes do not a champion make, and Venus admits it is time she gave herself a serious talking to about her superstition regarding tennis dresses. "I no longer wear red," she said. "I don't feel I can win wearing red. And I've retired my yellow dress after the French Open, even though I know I probably did things wrongs in my match, and it didn't have anything to do with the yellow dress." There were two main reasons for Williams' game going awry when she was defeated by Barbara Schett in straight sets in the first round in Paris: her Austrian opponent was determined to make the most of her opportunities – and Venus's mind was racing ahead. "I was thinking about future rounds," she said.
Only her first round match tomorrow against Shinobu Asagoe, a 24-year-old from Japan, ranked No 62 in the world, is allowed to occupy Venus's thoughts at the moment. "I was a little bit disappointed to hear they've changed the starting time to one o'clock on Centre Court this year," she said. "I wanted to play at two o'clock, like the previous defending champions. Maybe I'm at the start of a new tradition – if they change it back to two o'clock next year I'll be a bit gipped."
Venus, of course, had to beat her younger sister Serena in the semi-finals last year, and the manner of their match prompted some observers to raise doubts about its competitive nature. "I think Serena ran into somebody more determined – and more desperate," Venus said. "I really think she would have won the title if she had won the match against me. Even I felt more motivated to win the final [against Lindsay Davenport], because that's what she would have done."
This time Venus, the second seed, and Serena, seeded No 5, can only meet in the final. "Every time we're on the same side of the draw we seem to keep the appointment," Venus said. At noon today she will be able to watch Serena's opening match against Rita Kuti Kis, of Hungary, on Court Two.
"We were practising and counting the days before coming to Wimbledon," Venus said, recalling the perils of the Florida courts. "It was so hot and the bugs were big and biting. We couldn't wait to get here on Wednesday. It's a lot cooler, and we've been able to run.
"I always have a good feeling when it's time to return to the grass courts," Venus said. "We can play as fast as we want." After her triumph here a year ago, Venus went on to further success at the United States Open and the Sydney Olympics, but her victory at Wimbledon, which her father, Richard, celebrated by dancing on the roof of the commentary box on Centre Court, holds special memories.
"I admire Pete Sampras for winning so many Wimbledons," she said. "He doesn't let anything come between him and his Wimbledon title. If I could pick one place to win all the time, it would be at Wimbledon on the grass." After recounting that her first match at Wimbledon in 1997 did not get under way until Saturday because of bad weather (she lost to Magdalena Grzybowska, of Poland), Venus continued to sing Wimbledon's praises, emphasising that she was "more educated" about the protocol than last year. "No one told me before that you had to curtsy before receiving the trophy," she said, smiling. "How was I to know? We don't have royalty. There are lots of things you have to do here that you don't have to do at other tournaments. But I love Wimbledon, love the place, love the courts, love wearing all white." The dress colour code is not so strict for the Champions' Dinner, of course, but presumably lavender is out.