| VENUS: Overshadowed
Los Angeles: Venus Williams will have one last chance to get the better of little sister Serena when the top-ranked tennis siblings take to the court this week for the WTA Championships. But as the curtain comes down on the season there are fears the richest event in women’s tennis will end the same way as the last three Grand Slams — in a family feud with another all-Williams final and defending champion Serena pocketing the winner’s share ($765,000) of the $3 million purse.
Fourteen other players have been invited to participate in the WTA’s showcase event and all will be hoping Serena and Venus — having seen limited action since they clashed in the final of the US Open — will be rusty and distracted.
Citing fatigue, Serena has not played since early October, withdrawing from events in Filderstadt, Zurich and Linz after claiming her season-leading eighth title in Leipzig. But the world No. 1 has hardly been at home in Florida recharging her batteries. Having rocketed up the tennis rankings and the celebrity ladder, the muscular Williams is now a member of Hollywood’s A-list and is seen out on the town attending award shows, movie premieres and other high-profile non-sporting events.
The younger Williams also recently made a guest appearance as a kindergarten teacher on the television show ‘My Wife and Kids’, and according to reports in the Los Angeles press is keeping herself busy by taking acting lessons.
Still, despite the distractions, there will be few willing to bet against a well-rested and fully motivated Serena, who has utterly dominated the sport this season — winning eight events and 36 of her last 37 matches, including consecutive Grand Slam triumphs at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Another victory at the WTA Championships will help the 21-year-old Williams become the first women’s tennis player to win $4 million in a single season. “I’m really excited about going to Los Angeles this year and to win there would be the icing on the cake for me,” said Serena. “It is a huge honour to play in the Staples Center and I think it will really make all of us want to put on a good show.”
The WTA will be desperately hoping for “a good show”, having hastily brought its season-ending extravaganza back to the US after the event flopped miserably in Munich last year. The largest and most lucrative women-only sporting event in the world, the Championships had been a popular fixture at New York’s Madison Square Garden from 1979 to 2000.
But the decision to move the event to Germany proved a poor one. The tournament attracted little interest as the season drew to an anti-climactic close, Serena taking the title without lifting a racket when Lindsay Davenport was forced to withdraw from the final through injury.
Now back in the US, a line-up top heavy with Americans will ensure crowds at the 20,000-seat Staples Center will have plenty to cheer when play begins on Wednesday.
As always, Serena’s major competition is likely to be provided by her lanky sister and world No. 2 Venus, who is back at the event for the first time in three years after illness and injuries kept her on the sidelines in 2000 and 2001.
While Venus’ year was overshadowed by her sister’s amazing accomplishments, her season was not without its successes, having won seven titles and more than $2 million in prize money.