This really is the Williams sisters' time. The big American tournament, the U.S. Open, starts Monday in the big American city, New York, for America's biggest celebration of tennis.
So, really, who else to honor but the two American tennis icons? This is the 10th anniversary of Serena Williams' first U.S. Open title, the first major for a Williams sister.
They are a great American story, too, starting in the ghetto in California with a father with a dream knocking dead tennis balls to them. You know the story: They went on to become the most recognizable female athletes in the world.
I'm not sure why it is, then, that seeing this celebration does not make me think about what they've done so much as what they haven't. The Williams sisters have been the best thing to happen to American tennis in years, no doubt.
And certainly you can't say that someone who has gone from where they've gone to where they are is a failure. They are hugely successful. But also, they haven't lived anywhere near up to their potential, especially Serena. They should have been more than tennis stars, more than someone to throw out an opening pitch at a Yankees game, more than a celeb that has lots of fun on a Twitter account talking about loving dogs.
That's probably unfair to Venus, who has been a remarkable spokesperson for the game, has worked on player boards and fought for equal pay for women players.
And that is almost limitless. Two women standing as grand examples of power, smarts, grace, individuality and athleticism playing a sport that takes them all around the world.
Remember what it was like when they first came on the scene? I remember talking to fashion editors about their style, to family psychologists about what they might be going through as sisters competing against each other, to sociologists about what it meant for black athletes to be moving into a predominantly white game.
Tennis had had a few black champions, Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, but the sisters' stories were always linked to Tiger Woods'. Tiger's dad, Earl, once said that his son would "do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity."
Not to put too much pressure on Tiger. It was such an overstatement that it seemed laughable at the time. In fact, Tiger seems more inclined just to hit golf balls. But he has changed golf, raised it two levels, and shown, other than a few swear words, to be a great example to put in front of your kids.
The Williams sisters have not become the phenomenon that was expected, and they could have been bigger than Tiger. That's the unfairness of expectations, but the truth is, it is within them.
I guess it's the round number, 10 years since Serena won, that makes you look back. And the funny thing is the how different their story looks based on your perspective.
I've been critical of Serena for several things lately: She has not won a non-major in roughly 17 months. This coming Sunday, in fact, will mark the 500th day since she won a non-major. But she lets tournaments promote her and sell tickets, and then she doesn't try. She hasn't bothered to stay in shape, either.
Her book comes out Tuesday, and cross your fingers, because this could be a huge moment for Serena and her role. I can't wait to see what she writes. It is said to include a lot of talk about body image. She could have shown that you don't have to look like a Barbie doll. Until now, though, she has lied about her weight, claiming to be just 150 pounds.
What kind of message is that?
While she is a great example for young girls, she could be far, far greater.
Meanwhile, Rick Reilly, one of America's best known sports writers, says in ESPN the Magazine next month that there should be a stamp for the sisters, and ticker-tape parades.The New York Times ran a photo gallery of 10 years of success on its Web site. The Daily News in New York wrote a long piece Sunday about their amazing story.
Perspective. If you see tennis as a four-times-a-year thing, the way casual sports fans see it, then you see the Williams sisters winning all the time. If you're a tennis fan, watching year round, then you see what they haven't won, too.
I'll be in New York the next two weeks at the Open, watching everyone go nuts over the Williams sisters. They deserve it. But when I see their greatness on the court these next two weeks, and how they can excite people, and how Serena can fight to the death to win, I won't be able to help thinking we could have always had it like that.
When they arrived on tour, they brought a newfound power and athleticism to the women's game. They brought excitement. And over the past 10-12 years, they have carried women's tennis. Through the years, though, they haven't gotten any better. Justine Henin caught them, passed them, and then retired from the grind.
It is testimony to the sisters that they have lasted this long, this strong. But the game has not continued to progress under them, the way the men's game has under Roger Federer, and then Rafael Nadal. And while they've won 19 majors between them -- 11 for Serena and eight for Venus -- they are so far better than anyone else that they should have won more.
No way, for example, should Maria Sharapova ever have been ranked No. 1 during Serena's prime. Well, tennis won't want to talk about things like that the next two weeks. It gets an American celebration for its game surrounding its two icons. The sisters have done amazing things. They could have done more.
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