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“I’ve been thinking about your career, and something is troubling me,” Evert began.

“In the short term you may be happy with the various things going on in your life, but I wonder whether 20 years from now you might reflect on your career and regret not putting 100 percent of yourself into tennis. Because whether you want to admit it or not, these distractions are tarnishing your legacy,” the letter continued.

Since the start of the 2007 season, Williams has won six of her major championships, while continuing to pursue outside interests and grow her status as a celebrity who transcends her sport.

“Yeah, she’s had the last laugh. … I mean, this is a woman who is living a full life, who is very multidimensional. So she’s dipped in and out … of the game,” said Evert, who will call U.S. Open matches for ESPN2. “Still, when she’s been in the game, (she’s) committed herself and been No. 1.”

Yes, she once was ranked that high _ and could very well be again. But after Wimbledon last month, Williams fell to 175th, due to all that time away. She’s built her ranking back into the top 30, and the U.S. Open followed the WTA’s lead, seeding her 28th.

Many observers, such as Evert and seven-time major champion John McEnroe, decried that decision, saying Williams‘ past success and recent form merited a high seeding.

As for Williams herself? She wasn’t worried about what number is beside her name in the draw.

“I don’t know why people are so upset,” Williams told The Associated Press. “My goal was just to be seeded, and I got that goal, so that’s good.”

Her older sister Venus, whose seven Grand Slam titles include the 2000 and 2001 U.S. Opens, is ranked 36th and isn’t seeded at all for the U.S. Open. She was off the tour for four months early in the season because of a hip injury and has been sidelined again since Wimbledon because of a virus.

Like Serena, Venus _ who is 31 _ has managed to be at or near the top of tennis for years and years despite _ or perhaps as a result of _ pursuing off-court interests and occasionally missing chunks of playing time.

“We did what was best for us, and it’s worked out,” Venus said. “Serena and I plan on playing the game for quite a few more years. Everything’s worked out for us.”

How have they been able to do it?

“We’re just blessed, I guess,” Venus said. “We don’t believe we need a lot of matches, so mentally, we’re prepared to do what it takes.”

Asked this week when she last felt as fit and strong on a court as she does right now, Serena replied, “It’s been a long time.”

After pausing a moment to consider the question, she said: “It’s been a while. Since, like, 2002.”

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