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By Rohit Sharma
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For a long time, tennis has been looking for a reigning queen , someone who could rule the game for a LONG TIME. The arrival and departures of names like Martina Hingis and Justine Henin left little hope for a tennis queen. And finally, it took not one but two Williamses to rule the world of women's tennis. The sisters have shared 17 grand slam titles between them , with both having won olympic gold, all major doubles crowns, together, and finally the WTA championships,with Serena hitting the bulls eye in 2001 and Venus clinching the victory in 2008. When you have someone from a family who reaches four straight grand slam titles and wins them , then there is little that can be written in analogy to that extraordinary feat , but when you have the other member from the same family winning five wimbledon singles titles, pitting herself against legends like Navratilova, Billie Jean and Graf, then one can be sure to have a spot secured in the Family Hall of fame.
It was the year 1999 that brought grand slam glory to the Williams family with the younger cub winning the US Open beating the then World number one Martina Hingis who got better of the elder williams in the semis. Notably, Serena had debuted the tour a year ago and was already a top 5 player in the world with a grand slam under her belt. In the words of mother Oracene- ''It was a death like loss for Venus , she felt like she let everyone down. Being the elder sister , she thought it was her responsibility to win the slam first.'' But then Serena was flying high above the sky, and by winning the grand slam cup the same year defeating Venus again , she confirmed that her win at the open was not a flash in the pan. That year Richard williams , the man behind the girls from ''ghetto to a grandstand'', predicted that Venus will win atleast two slams next year. The year was 2000, and the world had entered a new millennium with Lindsay Davenport becoming the first grand slam winner of the century at the Australian Open. Venus left little for the younger sister at the slick lawns of Wimbledon and, defeated Serena to reach her first of the four consecutive wimbledon finals. She beat the defending champion Davenport in straight sets , just to jump in joy, with sheer elation. It was just a matter of a couple of months and Venus showed the world that she is not a one slam wonder and lifted her second grand slam trophy at the US Open.
Unfortunately, at the time when the sisters should have been praised for their phenomenal achievements on court , they had to face severe criticism pertaining to match fixing, ''Maybe its Serena's turn now'' , one of the top players was quoted as saying. What added fuel to the fire were Father Williams' rather painfully placed comments on two of the top women's players in the world. In his own words , Richard described Lindsay as too old and Hingis as too short to give any competition to his power hitting daughters. The illusion was shortlived when neither of the Williams could make it to the finals of the next two slams in Melbourne and Paris. It was time for the resurgent Jennifer Capriati , who despite all odds won back to back slams at Australian Open and Roland Garros. But as they say, the champions bring the best out of themselves on their favorite grounds, Venus successfully defended her Wimbledon title, beating a surprise finalist, Justine Henin. Same year she beat Serena to win her fourth grand slam title at Flushing Meadows. That's when it became clear that match fixing allegations are baseless and don't stand any ground. Year 2002 was about to bring some new records for the Williams family. Venus started the year in style winning in Antwerp, Gold Coast and Dubai, but then at Roland Garros, she couldnt capitalise on her best ever result and lost to Serena in a rather BORING final , as it was termed by many. Venus' expression of joy over her sister's revival at the slams was seen by many as non-competetive. When things like that are said at such a high level of competition, then the sport becomes nothing more than exhibition stuff. It was believed that Venus had taken that loss a little too easily, and got the alarm of her life when she was beaten by Serena at her beloved grass at the all england lawn tennis club. The match was a display of high quality tennis and reaffirmed the supremancy of the Williams game. What more could father Williams have asked for, than his daughters being the top two ranked players in the world. It seemed it wasn't enough for Serena as she went on to become the first player after Steffi Graf to win four straight grand slam events, a feat that was later rechristened by the wonder girl as the "Serena Slam". What was more interesting was the fact that she beat Venus williams in all slam finals. At the last of her 'Serena Slam' victories, at Melbourne Park ,Serena choked in tears, as she had created history. Things like that don't happen often, and they certainly don't happen when you happen to defeat someone you have grown up practicing , playing , fighting and sharing stuff with. It takes immense amount of mental toughness and sheer grit to get over the awkward situation to just go out there and win. The girls had learnt it, and they had learnt it the hard way. The years to come were of course hard to deal with. With personal life tragedies like half sister Yetunde's murder, and parents divorce, sisters were trying the best they could to deal with the bereavement and separation. And then came the showdown at Wimbledon , now beloved to both Venus and Serena. The bets were on and stakes were high for reigning French Open queen, Justine Henin, who handed Serena her first slam defeat in two years. But in a bid for the fourth family Wimbledon crown, Serena settled scores with Justine Henin by avenging her loss to the Belgian in straight sets , and with limping Venus, plagued with injuries fighting the 'other ' Belgian Kim Clijsters in a nail biting semifinal. The finals again put a lot of pressure on the Williamses shoulders with people expecting anything but a repeat of the straight set wins shared between the sisters at the lawns. After trading the first two sets between each other, the younger one came strong against grimacing Venus, and successfully defended her Wimbledon crown. There were tears and rapture all at the same stage and the parts were played satisfactorily by both the leading ladies. Flushing Meadows bought a cameo appearance to the sisters as both sat out of the competition due to an injury plagued season. Still they were the star attraction at the famous courts in New York. Anyone who could have capitalised on this opportunity the best was Justine Henin, who, after a classic semifinal against Capriati, beat compatriot Kim Clijsters to win her first ever US Open title. Next year bought loads of disappointment for both Venus and Serena and neither could prove their mettle at any of the slams that year. 2004, infact saw the rise to stardom for Russian tennis with girls like Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova sharing grand slam glory with Justine Henin. The 2005 Australian Open saw a long awaited Williams comeback with Serena winning the title beating Lindsay Davenport. As if it was not over for the Williams camp, that after a rather miserable french attempt at Roland Garros, Venus put aside all her fears and final stage nerves to beat Lindsay Davenport, again , to win her third Wimbledon title. The match exceeded all expectations and was the longest ladies final ever, with Venus clinching victory after saving three match points, winning 9-7 in the decider. Although Venus couldn't stop the destined Kim Clijsters at the US Open from winning her first and well deserved grand slam crown, she made it clear that she is in the orbit of her own. 2006 also saw frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo realising her long yearning dream to win a slam , finally, at the Aussie Open, and with Wimbledon title under her belt, she made 2006 her year, dismantling strong challenge from other slam winners, Sharapova and Henin.
2007 saw Venus in a slightly different role in the first half , creating waves at the fashion fraternity, as she clinched yet another title of a fashion major with a degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. She also created her own clothing line, ELEVEN and made sure it got advertised at stages no less than the lawns at Wimbledon and courts at the USTA Tennis center. Serena too, by now had had her share of acting and a dream to live a multi celebrity life like Jennifer Lopez, as she once described. And she created her own clothing and tennis apparels line- ANERES, which is simply Serena spelled backwards. Though the girl may seem to have drawn a lot more than just inspiration from Oprah Winfrey's HARPO ( Oprah spelled backwards ) , but the buzz is that both ELEVEN and ANERES are doing well in the apparels industry. They may not be a competition to the GUCCI and VERSACE, but they sure do stand a chance at the sporting arena.
Ironically though, neither Serena nor Venus have put their business-woman role above their tennis careers and have their feet well on the ground. The girls had a great year in 2008, with Serena and Venus both clinching a slam each, Beijing Olympic Doubles Gold and Venus closing the deal at the WTA Championships in Doha. Serena's Australian Open triumph this year only consolidated the fact that the girls are here to stay and no amount of criticism can deter them from their paths to success and history books.With wins in three of the last five majors, Williams domination is on a high swing. The 2009 Roland Garros trip brought disappointment for both Venus and Serena as it set the stage for a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova, but as the tour travelled from the red clay of Paris to the green grass of Wimbledon, the sisters saw a Grand Slam revival and brushed aside top level competitors to set up a fourth all-Williams final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. This simply means that eight of the last ten titles will have name Williams engraved on the Venus Rosewater Dish. Although, the silver plate seems to have favoured it's near namesake Venus on five occasions, two time champion Serena Williams is hungrier than ever to get her name on the elusive and prestigious trophy. No matter who the winner is, the tennis world is expecting an exciting final where the girls go for each other's throats first, before they go for the hug. This is what is expected out of the Williamses, and they are pretty good at meeting the expectations. After all, they have re-abbreviated the WTA to their own family name.
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