September 13, 2000

Why the Arrogant Venus Williams Has Ruined Women's Tennis

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When did tennis become a combination of WWF and “General Hospital”?

Between keeping track of which hockey player Anna Kournikova has the hots for and following the tag-team rivalry pitting the Williams sisters against Lindsay Davenport and Martin Hingis, there’s barely time left for catching any tennis that’s actually being played.

Tennis is supposed to be the classy sport, the one that stays above the frays of the player squabbles, showbiz atmosphere, arrogant comments, and general malaise that characterize the other professional sports these days. As a whole, we’ve become so desensitized to the moral degeneration of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey that we barely turn our heads when the names Darryl Strawberry, Shawn Kemp, or Ray Lewis pop up in the press under the category of ill-cultured antics.

But tennis, the game of Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert, wasn’t supposed to be like the other sports.

For all the brilliant play that took place during the last fortnight’s U.S. Open — see Marat Safin, Todd Martin, Elena Dementieva — it was easily overshadowed by the crass flavor that tennis has acquired recently.

And that trend all started with the arrival of Venus Williams onto the women’s tennis scene.

There’s no arguing that since Venus first began her march towards the top in 1994 (at the spry age of 14), she has raised the level of the sport exponentially. Instead of the days when Steffi Graf would dominate the tour ad nauseum, today there are reasonably 10-15 women who can make a legitimate run at any of the Grand Slam events.

But along with her phenomenal play, Venus also brought a hearty sense of arrogance and an unhealthy amount of cockiness, both of which have helped spawn the degeneration of tennis.

By destroying Davenport 6-4, 7-5 in the Open’s final on Saturday, Venus produced further evidence that she is one of the best players out there right now; but at the same time, her words and actions detracted from her performance and only helped to add to the feeling that her presence on tour can only be bad for the future of the sport.

Having considered retirement a few months ago at the ripe old age of 20, Venus now seems a bit too confident of her abilities.

“I’ve always felt like the best player. It’s about an attitude you take into the game. Now, I just go out and take it instead of hoping somebody’s going to give it to me with their mistakes,” she said.

Though that particular statement was uttered last week, Venus has been jabbering like that ever since she turned pro. But her words have far outdone her play on the court so far.

Hingis, despite being three months younger than Venus, has already won five Grand Slam titles compared to Venus’ two. And Martina took her first Grand Slam in only her ninth try as opposed to Williams’ 13th. Add Hingis’ eight doubles titles in the Slams as well as the No.1 spot that she’s clutched for the better part of the last three years, and it doesn’t seem that Venus’ words have really born any fruition.

Apparently that hasn’t really stopped her.

In an interview, she recently said, “I had to ask the umpire [the score in the second set]. It didn’t feel like the U.S. Open final. It felt like I was just playing a game.”

Maybe you’d like to return your $800,000 check then. I mean, if it didn’t feel like a U.S. Open final and all.

And commenting on winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same year, she humbly declared, “It honestly does not feel as exciting as I thought it would.”

Sorry the tennis world bores you so much Queen Venus. Jeez, even the problem child of the ’80s, John McEnroe, eventually cleaned up his act.

And she doesn’t limit her arrogance to the confines of the court.

When President Clinton called Saturday to congratulate Venus on her victory, she responded by asking him to cut her taxes. And when he said he would see what he could do, she shot back, “Should I read your lips?”

Furthermore, Clinton graciously invited Venus to the White House, to which she insultingly replied, “I’ll think about it.”

Contrast this to the way her sister, Serena treated a call from the Prez when she won the U.S. Open last year.

“I thought for sure my day couldn’t get any better,” she said in awe. “The next thing they told me is the President of the United States wanted to talk. I was like, wow.”

Thankfully, at least one of the Willliams’ sisters seems to comprehend the meaning of humility.

With a good 10-15 years of years left in her career, Venus has the talent to rule the WTA tour. She’s beaten Davenport and Hingis at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open now. The only reason she isn’t No. 1 in the world is because the WTA bases its rankings on the last 52 weeks, and Venus missed the first four months of this season due to injury.

Perhaps if Venus puts a halt on the arrogance, and lets her racket do the talking, she will not only be respected for her ungodly skill but also for her down-to-earth demeanor.

If she can’t do that, maybe she should retire early because tennis can do fine without her.

Archived article by Shiva Nagaraj