- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Venus Williams, tall and lanky, stood out among a pack of fidgety children, all with tennis rackets by their side.

“We love you, Serena!” one excited child shouted. Williams either didn’t hear or tuned it out. No big deal. There are worse people in the world to be mistaken for than her younger sister. And besides, Venus once was one of those kids, attending a World TeamTennis clinic as a 7-year-old in Southern California.

“It was with Billie Jean King, although I didn’t know it was Billie Jean King at the time,” she said of the tennis legend and World TeamTennis founder. “I didn’t even know my left from my right.”

Williams was in town Tuesday as a member of the Philadelphia Freedoms, who beat the Washington Kastles 23-16 in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 3,000 at Kastles Stadium downtown. And she played a key role, winning the women’s singles event over Olga Puchkova and teaming with Lisa Raymond to win the women’s doubles and Nathan Healey to win the mixed doubles.

Three days earlier, she was standing on Centre Court at Wimbledon, teaming with her sister to win the women’s doubles title over Rennae Stubbs and Samantha Stosur. Earlier that day, she lost to Serena in the women’s singles final.

A year ago, the scene before the Kastles’ first home match was similar, except it was Serena, a member of the Kastles, who arrived just a few days after losing to Venus at Wimbledon.

Venus Williams appeared no worse for wear, looking relaxed in a T-shirt sporting the word “Eleven,” the name of her clothing line.

The Williams sisters have met 21 times in major tournaments, with Serena holding an 11-10 edge. Serena has eleven Grand Slam titles, while Venus has seven. But don’t bother asking Venus about the oncourt relationship.

“Yeah, a lot of people want to know about that,” she said politely before Tuesday night’s match. “I get tired of answering those questions.”

Venus Williams, a six-year veteran of World TeamTennis, flew to the District directly from London on Sunday and has made similar trips before.

“Wimbledon is my practice for World TeamTennis,” the five-time Wimbledon champion joked to reporters.

Williams’ presence was the main draw of the evening, luring a host of figures and celebrities, including Mayor Adrian Fenty, Washington Redskins Hall of Famer Darrell Green, the Washington Wizards’ Caron Butler and AOL co-founder Steve Case.

But for the Kastles, the match itself was an important one for their season. With Stubbs and teammate Leander Paes still playing at Wimbledon, they lost their first two road matches to start the season 0-2.

“We’ve got the team here now,” coach Murphy Jensen said before the match. “As far as I’m concerned the season starts today.”

Despite his optimism, the Kastles remained winless heading into their match against the St. Louis Aces here Wednesday.

The Williams sister did not face each other Tuesday. Serena Williams is scheduled to make her season debut against the Newport Beach Breakers on July 14.

In an interesting twist of events, Venus was matched Tuesday against Stubbs, an Australian doubles specialist whom the Kastles acquired in a trade last month.

But Stubbs, a five-time Grand Slam winner in doubles, downplayed any discussion of Tuesday’s match serving as a rematch. World TeamTennis, after all, is designed to be competitive but fun, a mixture of five singles and doubles events and special rules like no-ad scoring.

And unlike Wimbledon, crowds are encouraged to cheer.

“It’s a different format,” Stubbs said. “Venus and I are very good friends. It’s nice to see her in a different environment. It will be a little bit more relaxed. But of course, I want to win. There’s never been a time when I didn’t want to win.”

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