- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

NEW YORK Billie Jean King remembers a coaching session with a confident, 11-year-old Venus Williams.
"She already had attitude, which I like," King said.
And Williams' younger sister Serena? King doesn't recall much, other than that Serena stood to the side while Venus worked on volleying.
After quite a bit of time in her sister's shadow, Serena Williams has come to the fore, becoming the No. 1 player in her family and the world. She's the Williams who'll try to win a third straight Grand Slam title when the U.S. Open starts today.
"I wanted to change. I was tired of being at a certain level. When Venus became No. 1, that motivated me," Serena said. "I'm more determined than I was."
The first step was overcoming her bigger sister.
"I used to think I was Venus," Serena said last week. "I thought I liked things she liked. Then one day I realized I didn't like tomatoes. I don't like mushrooms like she does. I had to realize I was a different kind of person. I think this kind of helped. From little things like that to bigger things, I realize I'm a totally different person than she is."
By beating Venus in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon and going 38-4 with five titles in 2002, Serena overtook her sister in the rankings for the first time and is seeded No.1 at the Open. Venus, who beat Serena in last year's prime-time final to defend the title successfully, is seeded No.2. They only can meet in the final.
There are plenty of women who will provide story lines and slick shots during the year's last Grand Slam tournament: '98 champ Lindsay Davenport, out of action from November to July because of a knee injury; '97 winner Martina Hingis, working her way back from May ankle surgery; three-time major champion Jennifer Capriati, who can slug the ball just as hard as Team Williams; Monica Seles, looking for one last major title.
But right now the sport is dominated by two women named Williams.
As fifth-seeded Jelena Dokic put it: "You just have to hope they have a bad day."
While Serena tries to become the first player to win three consecutive majors since Steffi Graf in 1996, Venus aims at a rarer feat: No woman has won three U.S. Opens in a row since Chris Evert's four from 1975 to 1978.
The sisters "are a level above everyone else, and that wasn't true only a few years ago," CBS Sports analyst Mary Carillo said. "Venus has been a very good match player for a couple of years now. Even when she didn't play well, she competed well, and that is the single biggest thing Serena has learned to do this year.
"Serena's had some rocky matches and hung tough in them. That's a gift that she gave herself just over the last year."
Serena, whose first major title came at the 1999 U.S. Open, acknowledges she takes practice more seriously now. Just this week, recovering from left knee tendinitis that forced her to pull out of a tuneup event in Montreal, she was in Florida working with famed coach Nick Bollettieri.
"My game has matured, and mentally I've just matured to another level," Serena said. "That is a major factor in it. Some people mature really late."
Not that she's all that old: 21 next month.
Venus, 15 months older, still holds the edge over her sister in Grand Slam titles (4-3). But her winning percentage in '02 is .000 against Serena (0-3) and .945 against everyone else (52-3).
That is a big change from just a year ago.
Serena was 1-5 against her older sister following her loss to Venus in last year's U.S. Open final. But she suddenly blossomed, thanks to a matured approach to the game that now matches her physical talents. And she has plenty to show for her efforts: the No.1 ranking, every Grand Slam title except the Australian Open and, soon, a new clothing contract with Puma that will surpass the record $40million Reebok deal signed by, of course, Venus.
"This is what I've been wanting to do all my life, and I want to do more," Serena said. "I have so much more that I would like to do. Really, I'm just getting started."
While Venus bore the brunt of expectations and media attention in the early going as the sisters emerged as tennis phenoms, Serena really has started enjoying the spotlight. She's quick with a joke, designs her own Puma outfits and talks about dabbling in acting.
"They're very different personalities," said King, the U.S. Fed Cup captain and owner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles. "Venus is much more to herself now. Serena is much more gregarious, likes to socialize more. Serena is Hollywood."
Ask Serena what changed in the past year and the bottom line is this: She got tired of watching other players collect trophies she felt belonged in her home.
That simple? Frankly, yes, thanks to her natural talent and developing skills. The power, finesse, court coverage and strategy all melded so quickly.
"She never liked losing," Venus said, "even when we were little."
As children, Venus recounted, the Williams sisters (Serena is the youngest of five) would have singing contests. While the others would try different songs, Serena picked one and worked on it.
"If she didn't win," Venus said, "she'd cry."

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