The sisters are anything but boring


THE Williams sisters are plain lucky, they're champions by virtue of circumstance. At the French Open, asked if their domination would have been delayed if the top players were all healthy, Jennifer Capriati replied: "Taken longer? I don't know if it would ever happen at all."

The Williams sisters are fakes, they're counterfeit champions, Papa decides who wins and they just fall into line. Or as Amelie Mauresmo pouted, "I think they arrange it."

The Williams sisters are not tennis players but Xena the warrior princess (and twin) wielding a racket. Once we had touch, now it's all tricep.

The Williams sisters are boring, their domination tedious. Said Justine Henin: "I think that maybe the crowd also like to see other players in the finals."

You know what. It's a lie.

Here's the truth. The Williams sisters are the best thing that's happened to tennis, male, female, human or alien. Two black sisters have got their opponents red with exertion, blue in the face complaining, turning green with envy and simply going white in fear. If that's not colourful, then what is?

Still, for the sake of argument, let's take a look.

TOO LUCKY: Lucky is winning a net cord point, lucky is when an umpire overrules at a crucial stage. Lucky is not seven Grand Slam titles and a World No. 1 and No. 2 ranking that the sisters have. That you earn.

These girls did it their way and it was the hard way. Richard Williams taught his daughters from books and videos, he taught them (apparently) in public parks amidst the echo of nearby gang gunfire; he taught them (to everyone's disbelief) that junior tennis served no purpose; he taught them tennis is tough. They learnt well.

Sure, by the time they were racket-high, they had sponsors and their faces on magazine covers. You can call that lucky, you could also call that pressure. Great careers aren't built by giving Hans Christian Andersen a call and saying write me a fairytale; you sweat for them.

Said Capriati at the French Open: "I mean, it would be nice to see people coming back and really see what happens then."

Which people? Martina Hingis beat both sisters at last year's Australian Open, but mostly she looks like a midget at a NBA convention in front of them. Hingis has guile and delicacy, but the faster she creates, the quicker they destroy. Lindsay Davenport, at 26, has the power but not the speed, a steam engine up against a bullet train.

Memo to Capriati: You're lucky tennis isn't a contact sport.

TOO POWERFUL: So fine, the Williams sisters' work will never hang in the Louvre, but don't be fooled: what they do is art too.

Steffi Graf, it was said, could have pursued an alternative as a 400m runner. The sisters make her look like a slow-motion film. There is something of both the antelope and leopard to them, a bounding, lethal grace that is all athletic poetry.

Their games have been mocked as uni-dimensional, but if hitting hard was the only pre-requisite for victory, Malleswari should pick up a racket. Sure, the sisters may look wild but it is a measured mayhem.

A serve, however hard, which is too short is returnable; backhands not loaded with the requisite topspin will not arc, drop and skid on for a winner; forehand passes not aligned perfectly will not kiss the tramlines. Without technique, idea, belief and practice, muscle is useless. All champions are born with some gifts; the rest they acquire.

Why too are we surprised, their game is but a natural progression of superior rackets and scientific training. Connors hit harder than Rosewall, Lendl harder than Connors, Sampras harder than Lendl; same with Evert, Martina, Graf, Seles, Pierce, Williams.

But there is another thing. Tennis (and golf) has rarely attracted the African-American athlete; the reason has been opportunity, and some discrimination. In a historical decade, Tiger and the sisters are standard bearers of a new order. In golf, there has been some whining, but also a mass exodus from the bar to the weight room. Barbells have replaced gin and limes.

Memo to the other girls: Don't whine, work harder.

TOO BORING: If the Williams sisters' rule is being seen as tedious, prepare for a long wait.

Domination, however, is an exaggeration. Venus was No. 1 for only 12 weeks, Serena for only one (Graf was for 378!). We've barely had time to enjoy them and for some it's already become dreary? Chris Evert won 18 Grand Slam titles, Martina Navratilova 18, Steffi Graf 21. That was good for tennis. This is bad?

Mauresmo says: "To me, it (both of them in the final) is a little bit sad for tennis. Of course, because she's not there. What do we do then: limit one Williams per Grand Slam tournament? Which is as absurd as asking Navratilova in her prime to skip Wimbledon every odd year. The Williams sisters are taking tennis where it has never journeyed before. They are re-defining excellence. They are challenging their peers, and forcing us to re-think every notion we held dear about how fast and hard and majestic this game could be.

If that's monotonous, then so is Tendulkar. Let's face it, brilliance can never be boring.

Memo to Mauresmo: NBC reports that more people watched the Williams sisters' doubles victory than the men's final. Not everyone's bored.

TOO FARCICAL: If there was a case that the Williams sisters play dull finals, that their matches are pre-determined, then the Wimbledon final has destroyed it.

So Venus' serve was out of order, but there were stinging rallies, stunning foot movement, glorious ground strokes. It wasn't a classic, but it wasn't Nalbandian-Hewitt either.

Mauresmo said to French TV, "Maybe it will be Venus' turn now," alluding to Serena's French Open win. Except Serena won again. Now what? Venus wins the next two?

It is a disrespect and insensitivity the Williams don't deserve. Brothers and sisters have played on different teams, John played Patrick McEnroe occasionally, but in the history of sport (and how big is that), this sister act is unparalleled. There is no example by which to compare them, no previous instance that tells us fraternal love is easily forgotten once the first ball bounces, that the sisters must go for each other's throats first and then their cheeks (for a kiss).

Memo to the cynics: No one knows how hard it is. Only they do.

I wasn't always an admirer of the Williams sisters; now they leave me no choice. Admittedly they often get it wrong. They pull out of tournaments for no apparent reason, they don't play in the same tournaments, they say silly things like demanding a share of the tour's profits.

But they're also bright, funny, design some of their own clothes, learn languages, and yes, they can play a bit too.

Memo to women's tennis: Send flowers, weekly, to the Williams sisters. People are watching you because they're playing.